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Arts of Armenia: Sculpture
B. Khach"k"ars
The most characteristically Armenian medium for sculpture was the khach"k"ar, from the word for cross (khach") and stone (k"ar). These free standing, rectangular shaped cross-stones are found everywhere in Armenia; there are thousands of them in all sizes from forty centimeters to two meters high and more. Without exception the central motif is a cross, elaborately and elegantly carved.

Smaller khach"k"ars are often found inserted into the walls of churches, for example Hovhannavank", and placed at church doorways. Like the stelae of the earlier centuries, which perhaps they replaced starting in ninth century, they were used both as gravestones and as commemorative markers.

Khach"k"ars were often inscribed with a date, the name of the person remembered, and at times the name of the artist. The earliest examples from the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries are usually sober in their design, though often elegant in execution.

The cross is always framed by an elaborately carved band and sometimes surmounted by an arch. Small carved circles are placed at the corners of the concave ends of each of the four arms of the cross; in later centuries these circles are transformed into trilobed foliage.

Leaves sprout upwards from each side of the base of the cross of a khach"k"ar towards its arms; they are usually stylized and in the early period in the form of palmettos. This foliage demonstrates that symbolically the khach"k"ar represented the living cross.

Its wood is not dead, but alive with new leaves. The cross of the Crucifixion was thought to be made from the Tree of Life, and like the Crucifixion itself, was not a mark of death, but of rebirth through Christ"s Resurrection.

Without the Crucifixion the Resurrection was impossible; the living cross, the flowering cross, symbolizes the hope of a new life. Because the cross was the sign of the ultimate Christian message of salvation through the Crucifixion and Resurrection, in Armenia it became the most powerful religious image, more prevalent than the Virgin or even Christ Himself.

Thirteenth and fourteenth century khach"k"ars were highly ornate sculptural monuments often surrounded by intricate lace-like geometric bands carved on several levels. Many were of monumental size and some were supported by altar-like structures.

Often they were graced with figural representations. The best known type of the latter variety was the so-called Amenap"rkich" or Savior of All with a fully rendered Crucifixion scene in place of the bare cross. The earliest example of this type, one of the most impressive of all khach"k"ars, is dated 1273and is preserved at the monastery of Haghpat.

The best known sculptor of khach"k"ars, Momik, lived at the end of this thirteenth century; an artist of impressive skill he was also a noted architect and miniaturist.

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

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