Ancient Art Links: Armenian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

>>>The Armenians claim to
be really the very first Christian Nation and they
use that as a way to identify themselves over
the centuries. >>>On Sept 20, 2018 the
Metropolitan Museum of Art unveiled the first major
exhibition about ancient
Armenia. >>>The Met’s exhibition is
presenting the importance of the meaning of art of a
people on the border between east and west. >>>Armenia is an ancient
country situated between the Black and Caspian
seas.  It became part of the former Soviet Union
and declared independence in 1991. It was the first
Christian nation, but was later dominated by the
Islamic Ottoman empire. >>>At the very beginning
of the fourth century an Armenian King Trdat
ravishes a virgin, Saint Hripsime, and he becomes
like a wild boar. I see retribution for his abuse
of her and his sister suggests that he talked
with Gregory the Illuminator who has been imprisoned in
Armenia for many years and when Saint Gregory
preaches about Christianity, his faith, to King Trdat,
King Trdat and all of his people convert. Trdat regains
his human form and you see him in the exhibition
both with the head of a wild boar and looking like a
dignified King and by bringing his people with him into the
Christian faith the Armenians arguably claim to be
really the very first Christian nation. And they
use that as a way to identify themselves over
the centuries. They have a unique language that
develops an alphabet to translate Christian texts,
and they remain in this site between East and
West, major forces on trade routes, even as the
world around them becomes largely Muslim and they
remain Christian within that larger world. >>>The one hundred and
forty works in the exhibition come from
museums, churches and private collections all
over the world; almost all of them are on view in the
United States for the very first time. Most of the
objects are examples of a unique Armenian
Christianity’s, which are central to the Armenian
identity. >>>The crosses behind me
are what we call khachkar cross-stones. And they develop
in the medieval centuries, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th. I find
tremendously compelling markers of faith because
they are erected in states, which the real power
is with an Islamic overlord, so it is braver to announce
your Christianity than it would be in New York City. One
of my favorite pieces in the exhibition is this
gable from the roof of a church, a real church. The
site has been destroyed over the centuries really
by the Mongols so we can see the essence of
Armenian architecture; a cube, a cylinder, a cone
on top. It’s never travelled before. The
History Museum was extremely generous in
making this accessible to us. Like they were with
the gold jewelry, which is also never
been displayed before. >>>During the medieval
era, Armenia played a pivotal role on the major
trade routes. Under the Mongol Empire, Armenia
controlled the east-west trading network from India
to Amsterdam. These beautiful manuscripts,
metal objects and textiles, show how Armenia influenced
and was influenced by the rest of the world.>>>One of the last works
that I find very exciting in the exhibition is this
wonderful map that’s 10 feet by 4 feet that shows
all the Armenian churches in the Ottoman Empire.
There are 800 of them and you stand at the narrow
end in Constantinople and look out across the
Empire. The lollipop looking tugs tell you how
important the site is at the end of the 1600s to
the Ottoman Empire. The church at Etchmiadzin in
great detail. After King Trdat becomes a Christian,
Gregory the Illuminator has a vision and he sees a
Christ throwing a golden hammer to show where the
First Christian Church should be, which by
tradition is at Etchmiadzin. What certainly occurs
in the first centuries of the Christianization of
Armenia is they develop a very, very powerful
architectural form that they use till today. So if you go to
the Saint Vartan’s Cathedral at 34th and 2nd Avenue, you
see an echo of the ancient Armenian Church dedicated
to Saint Hripsime, the woman that King Trdat
abused.>>>Throughout their
history, many Armenians were forced to flee their
homeland for religious reasons, especially after
the genocide which began in 1915, during which more
than a million died. Today, far more people of
Armenian descent live outside of their country
than within its modern borders.>>>I am Egyptian with
Armenian origin so I’m very proud standing in
this hall in the great Metropolitan, seeing the
history of my ancestors here. So here the beauty
of the crosses, the arts, and how the merchants, the
trade route, how Armenians they influence the whole
world. >>>Both religion
and language play vital roles in national identity
of Armenians. Throughout the centuries, Armenian
Churches have helped millions of refugees and
immigrants to settle into new countries and to keep
the Armenian identity alive throughout the
world. >>>The church gathers us,
it’s language and church, it’s very important for
our identity. This history we want to pass it for the
future generation because without the language,
without the church, we are lost.

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