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Arts of Armenia: Sculpture
A. Stone Sculpture and Relief Carving
Inevitably in a country with an architectural tradition in stone dating back to Urartian times, the craftsmen who so carefully carved blocks of stones for walls, fortresses, and sanctuaries had acquired the skill to sculpt stone as relief decorations for buildings or as independent works of art.

Little sculpture has survived, however, from the pre-Christian period because of the excessive zeal of St. Gregory and the newly convert royal court of Armenia in destroying all vestiges associated with earlier pagan religions.

The major exception is a series of extremely large carved monolithic stones found in various parts of Armenia and often associated with water sources. They resemble large tailless whales.

On them are fish-like designs, but they are know as vishap-k"ar, dragon stones. They date from the second and first millennia B.C.

Excavations have uncovered a miscellany of sculptures from the Artaxiad and the Arsacid periods, roughly the second century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. The famous bronze head of Aphrodite, found at Satala near Erzinjan, now in the British Museum, or the small female torso in white marble dug up at Armavir, testify to the popularity of Hellenistic sculpture in Armenia.

Other stone heads, anonymous but no doubt of Armenian nobility, display a static pose far removed from the classical style. Nearly a dozen boundary markers of king Artaxias I (Artashes) from the early second century B.C. have also been uncovered in various areas of Armenia, but these are more important for their Aramaic inscriptions than for their art.

The temple of Garni from the first century A.D. offers an enormous repertory of sculpted lion heads, acanthus friezes and geometric and floral reliefs associated with the Ionic order of Hellenistic temple architecture.

1. Relief Sculpture
In Christian times relief sculpture on the façades of churches is very abundant. Almost all sixth and seventh century churches have carved decorative bands, but some like Ptghni, Mren, Zvart"nots" and Odzun have figural reliefs around windows and in the tympana of doorways.

The capitals of Zvart"nots", uncovered during the excavations of this seventh century monument, are especially elaborate, some carved in a basket style with monograms, while the capitals of the four supporting pillars have enormous heraldic eagles whose wings are wrapped around the sides.

Recessed in a niche to the north of the altar at Odzun is a finely sculpted Virgin and Child in the Byzantine pose known as the "Guide" (Hodegetria). Christ is on Mary"s left knee with her cloak wrapped around Him. Her right hand is pointing at Christ.

Though this impressive work is attached to the niche, it is carved nearly in three-quarters round, rare for the early Christian period where authorities harbored strong feelings against idols.

Relief sculpture, however, was tolerated because it stopped short of recreating the full human form, so important to classical pagan sculpture, and so distasteful to Christian clerics.

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Writer: Dickran Kouymjian
Editor: Eugenia Melkonyan
 Date Added: Tuesday September 05, 2006 10:53:09 

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