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Introduction to Armenian Painting
Introduction to Armenian Painting
If painting in its broadest meaning is the representation of an image on a flat surface - on walls (fresco), on wood (icon), in manuscripts (miniature), on canvas (painting), on floors (mosaic) - we know the history of Armenian painting almost exclusively from the study of the decoration of manuscripts.

Monumental wall painting was practiced in Armenia, but was much less generalized than neighboring Byzantine or Coptic traditions and very little of what was produced has survived.

The extent Armenian mosaics are strongly influenced by foreign traditions. Icon painting was never practiced in Armenia.

Canvas painting is relatively plentiful, but dates for the most part to the eighteenth century and later.

Thus, whereas the history of Byzantine painting in the Middle Ages is dependent as much (perhaps even more) on architectural decoration -- mosaics and frescoes - and icons as on illuminations, the Armenian tradition is known almost exclusively from miniature paintings.

A. Iconography: The Composition of a Scene
An understanding of Armenian painting requires the explanation of two terms used universally in art history: "iconography" and "style."

Iconography is the study ("graphy") of the "icon" (in Greek "image"); what we call an icon today was understood by the Greeks as a holy image usually painted on wood. Art historians use the term iconography to refer to the study of the formal composition of a picture and the elements of which it is made.

Iconography also studies the changes and developments of compositional elements over time.

For instance, in the study of the iconography of the Crucifixion, specialists identify the elements of the representation: the presence or absence of the thieves or other witnesses, the clothing of the figures, the background devices, and so forth.

These iconographic details help historians trace the influences of other artists and traditions on the painter.

Armenians often innovated on accepted iconography of the earliest Christian centuries. T"oros Roslin in the thirteenth century is among several important Armenian artists, some of them anonymous, who illustrated the standard cycle in totally new ways or who painted episodes rarely represented, thus breaking tradition with the earlier, generally conservative and standardized Christian iconography.

B. Style: The Artist"s Expression
The compositional elements of a painting are, on the other hand, unimportant when discussing style.

The artist"s way of painting, his drawing, colors, shading, facial expressions, rendering of landscape, all of these and other painting techniques make up the style of a picture.

"Impressionism," as an example, is a style that depends heavily on color, rather than outlining, to render shapes and volumes. The "classical" style refers to the manner developed by the Greeks and continued by the Romans of accurately portraying the human form on a flat surface.

The Greeks were interested in showing the body in motion, in revealing the shape and bulk of the body under its clothing.

They tried to paint or sculpt the face and body as idealistically or realistically as possible. Classical artists developed rules of proportion and the best artists tried to follow them closely. I

n later periods a "classicizing" style was one that tried to imitate or at least pay attention to the tenets of classical art. Armenians, because of their strong dependence on Byzantine Greek models, favored a classicizing style in the illumination of luxurious Gospels.

Much of Armenian art, however, shows a style far removed from classical tendencies. Various ways have been used to describe such non-classical styles: naive, primitive, provincial, monastic, native.

We find native or Armenian styles in the Vaspurakan school of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, or in such manuscripts as the Gospels of 966 in the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, or the Gospels of Horomos of 1211 or of Khach"en/Arts"akh of 1224 both now in the Matenadaran in Erevan.

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Writer: Dickran Kouymjian
Editor: Eugenia Melkonyan
 Date Added: Saturday August 26, 2006 06:42:44 

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