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Armenian Studies Program

Arts of Armenia-Preface

More than a decade ago Vahram Mavian of the Department of Armenian Affairs of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation spoke to me about producing a guide on Armenian art to be used in schools and colleges. A detailed text divided into the various divisions of Armenian art was to be accompanied by a large number of color slides of the highest quality suitable for classroom projection. The Foundation had engaged Ara Güler, the famous Armenian photographer from Istanbul, to record the most important monuments of Armenian architecture, painting, sculpture as well as the minor arts. The Foundation invited me to undertake the organization of the project and to write a text explaining the history of the various areas of Armenian art. I gladly accepted for at the time there was no general work on Armenian art amply illustrated in color for students or scholars.

The untimely death of Vahram Mavian in 1983 and my own preoccupation with the completion of the festschrift Armenian Studies/Etudes Arméniennes: In Memoriam Haïg Berbérian published by the Gulbenkian Foundation in 1986 delayed the project. In the meantime many of the monuments presented in this introduction to Armenian art have been badly damaged by the earthquake of December 1988; many others in sensitive regions have also deteriorated from neglect. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the independent Republic of Armenia in 1991 present a particularly timely moment to record and describe this vast legacy of ancient and medieval art, a common heritage of all humanity.

The project has been greatly aided by institutions and scholars in the Armenian Republic. The Matenadaran in Erevan, that unique museum, research center, and repository of ancient Armenian manuscripts, cooperated in the photographing of its treasures. Slides have also been provided by the following institutions of objects from their collections: The State Historical Museum, the Museum of Folk Art, the State Library, and the Treasury at the Catholicossate of Etchmiadzin. The following scholars have helped in the selection of slides: Mania Ghazarian for the minor arts, Emma Khorkmazian for miniatures, Ninel Voskanian for early printed books, Varazdat Harutiunian for architecture, Khatchig Musheghian for numismatics, and Robert Atayan for music.

A number of scholars from Armenia -- Ninel Voskanian on early printing, Khachig Musheghian on coins, and Robert Atayan on musical notations and instruments -- have prepared short descriptive texts in addition to my own. The arrangement of sections, however, and the material within each is entirely mine.

This work, The Arts of Armenia, is intended as an in-depth introduction to the artistic culture of one of the oldest nations of the Near East. In it the various artistic media are defined and the technical terms of art history are explained in plain language. I have assumed that the user, whether teacher or student, has little or no previous knowledge of art or art history. On the other hand, I have presumed that users of the book have a basic familiarity with Armenian history.

The discussion in each of the parts has been arranged chronologically. In each section I have tried to mention the current state of the arts in the medium concerned.

Though the project will be used mostly by individuals who are Western Armenian speakers, I have maintained the classical system of transliteration, which has become the standard in art history. I have, however, kept some commonly accepted spellings: Etchmiadzin, Gregory for Grigor, Luke for Ghukas, etc., and "ian" for the endings of Armenian names.

For those, whether teachers or students, who wish to have more information on Armenian art, I have included a bibliography, arranged by medium, with major studies in various languages on each.

Most of the slides were specially prepared for this project by Ara Güler, the Armenian institutions cited above, and myself. I would like to thank a few individuals who have helped with additional visual material: Patrick Donabedian, Michel Basmadjian, Mihran Amtablian, and Claude Mutafian for architecture, Photo Garo for manuscripts, and Lemyel Amirian and Arthur Gregorian for rugs. References to the visual material are given by slide number in brackets [] throughout the text.

The project would have been impossible without the constant aid and liaison of Zaven Yegavian, Director of the Department of Armenian Affairs of the Gulbenkian Foundation, and the late Gorun Keshishian, former Director I thank them and the Foundation for their confidence in this work.

May the project serve as a tribute to the memory of Vahram Mavian who devoted his entire life to the furthering of Armenian culture and the arts.