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Arts of Armenia: Sculpture
Regional styles developed in the carving of these crosses. Artists working in the merchant town of Julfa on the Arax evolved one of the most characteristic types. Practically nothing remains of that city destroyed by Shah Abbas in 1604 except its graveyard with its thousands of khach"k"ars, many still standing after nearly four centuries of abandon and neglect in the autonomous region of Nakhichevan now part of Azerbaijan.

In the last decade of the sixteenth century Julfan sculptors produced an immense variety of stone crosses, extremely precisely and regularly carved, almost machine made in appearance. The type was graced with a decorative band, often of delicate eight-pointed stars, around a complex cross recessed under an ogival niche.

Below the cross was an intricately carved rosette and underneath that, the deceased was shown mounted next to an identifying inscription. In a horizontal band at the top, Christ was seated in judgment flanked by angels. Another form of burial stone was a ram carved in the round, popular in Julfa in the sixteenth century; such ram-stones are also known in Iran and Azerbaijan.

Several of these late sixteenth century khach"k"ars are now preserved in the precincts of Holy Etchmiadzin. A more robust style is used on khach"k"ars from the largest extent group in Armenia proper in the cemetery of Noraduz on the northeastern side of Lake Sevan.

The carving of khach"k"ars has continued into our times, even though they have been gradually transformed into the modern forms of gravestones we see in cemeteries of western countries.

The consistence with which these cross monuments were employed is unique to Armenia; the only comparable tradition is the much less developed and short lived one of medieval Ireland.

C. Carved Wood and Ivory
There is a relative paucity of wooden and ivory sculpture perhaps because these materials were precious commodities in Armenia in historical times; furthermore, stone, especially the easily carved tufa, was very plentiful.

The most important piece of ivory carving preserved in Armenia is the binding, with upper and lower plaques, each in five fitted sections, of the Etchmiadzin Gospels. These were probably carved in the sixth century in a Byzantine workshop and later imported into Armenia.

The upper cover shows shows the Virgin with Christ with scenes from her life, including the Presentation of the Magi at the bottom. The lower cover has a beardless Christ in the central panel with scenes from His life. There are also a number of finely carved ivory bishop"s crosiers often with twin dragon heads.

Wood was a much more fragile medium than stone or metal and much of what must have been produced has been burned or otherwise destroyed. We know, however, that wood carving was as favored a craft in ancient times as it is today in modern Armenia.

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

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