Armenian Applied Art -

A collection of artifacts dating from 7th century BC to the late 19 century.
Last updated: February 17, 2003 9:45 PM Credits here

Stone and Bronze Age artifacts found in Armenia are evidence of an advanced culture which was already flourishing in that part of the world 5.000 years ago. One of the greatest empires of the Iron Age, the Urartians (who called themselves and their land Biainili, and their capital Tushpa, by Lake Van) rivaled Assyria for control of strategic trade routes between Central Asia and the Mediterranean. Powerful enough to invade the fabled Kingdom of Babylon, Urartian armies amassed what some say was the first Armenian Empire, connecting the lands of the Armenian Plateau and Anatolia with the Caucasus Mountains.

Lion foot
Bronze Urartu
Bronze shield
Urartu 650 BC
Griffin head
700 BC
Red burnished wine jugs
Karmir Blur 7c. BC

Urartu survived by some 300 years, but none of her kings aspired to claim the title of emperor of the land. Rather, they left a record of creativity seldom surpassed by other civilizations. These nobles took pride in the building of their temples, waterways and canals (the Canal of Shamiram is still in use today), and cities Erebuni, founded in 782 BC, became Erevan, the capital of Armenia ; Dushpa later became the city of Van; Asteghani, now called Kars, and Akhuriani became the great center, Ani.

Plate dated 8-7c. BC
Armavir, Armenia
Chariot ornament
bronze, 11-9c. BC
Plate of
King Argishti
783 BC
Winged bull
Urartu 700 BC

The Hurrian Kingdom, on the shores of the Western Tigris, and the Mitani Kingdom, south of Lake Dushpa (Lake Van), were the first organized states in Armenia. This same area, often called the Fertile Crescent was also settled by the Hittites. According to Hittite inscriptions, the Hayasa, with which the Hittite created strong ties through marriage, took shape in this period. The Hayasa adsorbed many features of Hittite life and culture. Assyrian inscriptions reveal the existence of another sovereign state, Nairi (country of rivers), known as the land of the "Twenty-three Kings" lying on the Armenian Highland.

Armenians. Persepolis 6-5c. BC
Urartu Relief
Rhyton Arinberd
Erebuni, 7c. BC

When the Urartians started to decline, the Hayasa country united the local tribes upon which it exerted a profound economic and cultural influence, and having penetrated farther into the Armenian Highland, subjugated the Urartians which in time became mutually assimilated the Hayasa people.

In this way, during the 6th century BC there arose the Armenian Kingdom which comprised large areas of Hayasa, Nairi and Urartu. The process of emergence of the Armenian people that lasted six centuries was thereby completed.

Anahid/Aphrodite Goddess

The statue has been identified as a nude Aphrodite, her left hand pulling drapery from a support at her side, like the famous statue of Aphrodite at Knidos by the fourth-century sculptor Praxiteles. It has also been suggested that the statue represents the Armenian/Iranian goddess Anahita, who was later assimilated with the Greek goddesses Aphrodite and Athena.

The size of the head suggests that it came from a cult statue, though excavations made at Satala in 1874 by Sir Alfred Biliotti, the British vice-consul at Trebizond, failed to discover a temple there. The statue may date to the reign of Tigranes the Great, king of Armenia (97-56 BC), whose rule saw prosperity throughout the region. The thin-walled casting of the bronze head suggests a late Hellenistic date.

Tigranes the Great, King of Armenia 97-56 BC

Under Tigranes, Armenia ascended to a pinnacle of power unique in its history and became, albeit briefly, the strongest state in the Roman east. Extensive territories were taken from the kingdom of Parthia in Iran, which was compelled to sign a treaty of alliance. Iberia (Georgia), Albania, and Atropatene had already accepted Tigranes' suzerainty when the Syrians, tired of anarchy, offered him their crown (83 BC). Tigranes penetrated as far south as Ptolemais (modern 'Akko, Israel).

Coin of Tigranes the Great
King of Armenia 97-56 BC

Urartu Kingdom | Hellenic Period | Illuminated Manuscripts | Relics | Khatchkars | Ceramics | Carpets

For the people of western Asia religion permeates every aspect of life. Quite naturally, therefore, artistic expression most commonly relates to religious observance. As with the religious carving and church architecture upon which the Armenians focused their greatest attention, so it is with the art of painting. In Armenia, painting became most highly developed in the monumental art form of church frescoes and in miniature paintings for religious manuscripts. Artistic styles in the two media seem to have developed rather concurrently. But due to the method employed, very few examples of fresco painting remain. Therefore the history of painting in Armenia can best be traced in the pages of religious manuscript paintings.

Matenadaran 1318
Not dated

Bible 1232

Before the invention of printing, the Bible or its parts were carefully copied by hand, in exquisitely stylized penmanship. It was a tedious operation. The pages of beautiful calligraphy were then decorated, or illuminated, with paintings. Over the centuries a large number of manuscripts was produced. Armenians attached great importance to them, regarding them as treasures from God. Commissioning the copying of a manuscript merited almost as much praise as that of erecting a church.

The anunciation by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she will be mother of God's son.
In the books of the gospels, illuninated by a follower of Toros Roslin (c.1280)

Yerevan, Matenadaran

Vaspurakan Aghtamar
Dated 1043

Bible 1269
Armenian Patriarchate Jerusalem

Manuscripts were not necessarily copies of the entire Bible. Often they contained copies only of specific or favorite books, most often the four Gospels. A typical Gospel manuscript would begin with several full-page paintings of scenes from the life of Christ, and would also be accompanied by a historic notation listing the date of completion of the manuscript, the name of the patron or family who commissioned the work, and often an account of the circumstances surrounding the making of the copy. These accounts, called colophons, also included descriptions of the condition of the country particularly when under siege by foreign armies. The manuscripts have therefore become unique sources of historical information.

The Wedding of Cana,
In the book of the gospels from Aght'amar,
Illuminated in 1391 by Tserun, a characteristic representative of the naive style of the school of Vaspurakan.
Note the details taken from the everyday life, such as the clothing and the wine barrels.

Photo: Yerevan, Matenadaran

Bible Artsakh 1390-1400
Vaspurakan Aghtamar
Dated 1391
Baptism of Christ
Bible, 12-13 century
Mateos Markos and Ghukas Canon
Last Supper
Bible, 12-13 century
Mateos Markos and Ghukas Canon

Tens of thousands of illuminated manuscripts were produced during the thirteen centuries of medieval Armenia. Most of them have perished. However, a significant number of well-preserved works still exists in the Repository of Manuscripts (the Matenadaran) in Erevan, Armenia, as well as in the library of St. James of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Mekhitarist Library of San Lazzaro in Venice, the Mekhitarist Library of Vienna, and in numerous private collections and museums in Europe and the United States.

"Holy Cross of Khotakerats"
Suinik Vayoz Zor, 1300
Adana 14c.
Alexan from Urfa Edchmiazin

Reliquaries are presented in the established classical forms. The most prominent among these is the "Holy Cross of Khotakerats" commissioned by Prince Eatchi Proshian in the year 1300, which is significant not only because of its age but also for its artistic embellishments and delicate engravings. Equally delicate decorations are found on the chalices and the reliquaries which are sometimes studded with precious gems. Gems add a unique richness to the art on crosses, manuscript covers and stafls. All of these were created in centers of the Armenian goldsmith's art, such as Sis, Adana, Vaspurakan (especially Van and Ardzgh), Constantinople, Smyrna, Garin, Gesaria, Yerevan, Tiflis and New Julfa. The Garin tradition was later carried on by the masters who moved to Akhaltzkha (presently in Soviet Georgia) during the nineteenth century. Armenian goldsmiths were masters of the techiniques of engraving, shaping, meshing, threading and granulation. Belt buckles made at the same centers are predominantly in silver, sometimes gilded and adorned with pearls.

The carving of Khatchkars is an artistic tradition unique to the Armenians. Khatchkar, literally "cross-stone", refers to an upright stone slab carved with inscriptions and designs. The cross, the Christian symbol of faith, forms the central motif.

Made of basalt or tuf, and resting on a rectangular base, a Khatchkar may be anywhere from 0,5 to 3,5 meters in height. Its back faces eastward. The front, or westward side, has the central cross carving, usually quite large, surrounded by elaborately carved designs. Inscriptions note the name of the person who commissioned the work, the artist who carved it and the date or occasion for which the slab was erected.

Khatchkars are unique works of art in a medium which seems to have been highly restricted in the culture as a whole. The carving of statues, possibly associated with the Zoroastrian pagan period, was banned by the Christian Church. The influence of Christianity on daily life - religious as well as secular - meant the until modern times Armenians limited themselves to sculpting only bas-reliefs on churches and Khatchkars. However, restriction did not quell the imagination of the artists, who developed an endless variety of richly designed motifs, creating a national art form. Thousands of these stone slabs still exist today in Cilicia, Jerusalem and Isfahan, in addition to those in Armenia proper.

Lake Van
St Grigor Lusavorich



Styles of decoration became most finely developed during the 9th to 11th centuries when Khatchkars attained artistic excellence. Armenian artists learned to create elegant ornamentation using a variety of exquisitely stylized geometrical patterns, some so fine as to look like lace. They devised elaborate and decorative floral motifs and abstract designs woven into uninterrupted patterns as expressions of eternal life.

Khatchkar carving originated as an assertion of faith in Christ. But popular belief also attributed to these monuments powers of protection, such as defense against earthquakes, droughts and other catastrophes. Khatchkars were also erected to mark important events such as military victories, the completion of churches, bridges or other major structures, major donations to a church or monastery and the like. Some were incorporated into the walls of churches and other s stood freely as markers, or side by side in groups as accents to nearby architectural structures. Most commonly, Khatchkars served as monuments to commemorate the dead. Traditionally the deceased was buried with the head toward the east, facing the Khatchkar placed at the feet. Carved upon it were stylized rosettes, derived from the rose, symbol of everlasting life. In this way the Khatchkar would be a reminder to the deceased of the everlasting life to come.

Urartu Kingdom | Hellenic Period | Illuminated Manuscripts | Relics | Khatchkars | Ceramics | Carpets

The production of ceramics in Armenia began in pre-historic times. As early as the 9th century BC skilled potters produced a variety of wares such as dishes, vases, jugs, bowls and cups, with and without ornamentation. However a distinctly advanced form of Armenian ceramic style developed much later, in the 11th century AD, with the westward migration of displaced Armenian artisans. At that time economic and social pressures exerted by the Seljuk Turks in Armenia proper led many Armenians to resettle in the areas west of their homeland, including the city of Cotyaeum, now called Kutahya, located approximately 125 miles southeast of Constantinople.

Between the 11th and 14th centuries, Armenians in Kutahya developed their own distinctive ceramic styles and designs. Taking their direction from Armenian manuscript illumination, Kutahya pictorial ceramics evolved into works of art. By the 15th century Kutahya became a center for manuscript production and illumination as well as for the production of painted ceramic tiles. The artists gained primary support through the patronage of the Ottoman court. Largely dependent on minorities of craftsmanship, the Ottoman Turks referred to the Armenians of Kutahya as "infidel china makers".

Kutahya ceramics 1719 Photo: G.Nalbandian

Not until the 17th century did the Armenian artist craftsmen feel secure enough among Muslim neighbors to incorporate Christian symbols in decorating their ceramic objects. By that time their ceramic work was produced in a variety of forms: tile for wall decoration, urns, water containers, household pottery, hanging ornaments, lamps, pipes, incense holders and rosewater flasks.

By then Armenian craftsmen began supplying painted decorative ceramics to Armenian and Greek monasteries and churches in the Ottoman empire and abroad. Among the Kutahya objects displayed in the exhibit is the oval shaped hanging ornament from which a church lamp is suspended. These ceramic ornaments were traditionally given as gifts to churches by worshippers upon fulfillment of a vow.

Kutahya tiles were used not only to decorate Christian churches, but also in the decoration of mosques in the cities of Kutahya, Ankara, Constantinople, Konya and Jerusalem, among others in the East.

The Armenian ceramic industry in Kutahya flourished for hundreds of years until it ended abruptly at the beginning of this century, when the Armenian community was exiled from the city. The remnants of this industry can be found today in scattered locations throughout the world.

Urartu Kingdom | Hellenic Period | Illuminated Manuscripts | Relics | Khatchkars | Ceramics | Carpets

From the wool of their sheep, primitive people learned to weave material for both shelter and clothing. This great technological advance eventually led to making, among other things, oriental carpets.
The lands of historic Armenia, from the southern Caucasus and Tigris-Euphrates valley to the Mediterranean Sea, was one region of early carpet making. Early references to this subject come form Herodotus (485-425 BC) and Xenophon (430-355 B.C.), the first saying that cloth was dyed there and the second that a carpet was offered as a gift when drinking a toast. When Marco Polo passed through the kingdom of "Lesser Armenia" in 1271, he recorded in his Travels, the Armenians and Greeks "weave the finest and handsomest carpets in the world". Arab travelers who preceded him also said as much.

Armenian carpets from Sardarapat

Early in the 19th century, when the sultans of Turkey wanted to establish carpet weaving in Hereke, close to their capital of Constantinople, it was the Armenian master weavers from Sivas who were called upon to do so. From the beginnings of this century, Armenians such as Zareh Agha Penyamin and Nahabed Kechichian have become legendary names for their designs and fine workmanship in Oriental carpets. And to this day, Armenians are still among the most accomplished designers, weavers and restorers, as well as merchandisers, in the world.

In the collection of the American Museum of Natural History, the "Shoghagat" carpet, so inscribed for the monastery where it was woven and dated in 1875, is in the grand tradition of Armenian carpets. The Armenian presence in the field of carpet making, among the oldest and most constant presence in the history of the development of this art and craft in western Asia, has been an important influence throughout this part of world.

Urartu Kingdom | Hellenic Period | Illuminated Manuscripts | Relics | Khatchkars | Ceramics | Carpets

Text of Urartu Art by TACentral with images courtesy British Museum
Exerpt of Relics by HyeEtch - Religion & Church - Etchmiadzin & Treasures

Text of Illuminated Manuscripts Khatchkars Ceramics Carpets courtesy Armenian Youth Federation of Greece