Zatik consiglia:
Iniziativa Culturale:


Informazioni generali sull'arte e gli artisti Amerni


The section of the exhibit on Armenian painters of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries provides a convenient vehicle to consider some basic questions about art, especially Armenian art. Although the artist are Armenian by their ethnic origin many of them were born outside of Armenia or spent their entire creative life in countries other than Armenia. Is their art individually or collectively Armenian? If one chooses to answer "yes" then there is a presumed relation between artistic creativity and ethnicity, a notion that is very difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate. Whether the answer is yes or no, the question presupposes the existence of an identifiable Armenian art of which these artists partake or with which
they associate.

There is a dilemma in grouping artists by the country of their origin. Art historians have decided that the most convenient, and certainly the most popular, way of categorizing art and artists is by national label. We have become accustomed to notions of Greek and Roman art, Italian, French, German, American, Russian, Chinese, or Egyptian art. Therefore, Armenian art, whether ancient, medieval, or modern, seems a natural category. But does the term have any meaning beyond its convenience in grouping diverse creators who happen by accident of birth to share the same national origin? It is difficult to say. Perhaps when limiting the idea to those artists who live and work in Armenia we might find a number of common factors. But are there such shared qualities among diasporan artist scattered over three continents with little, if any, contact among themselves or with the homeland?

What then is Armenian art? By analogy to Roman, Italian, French, or American art, we might simply define it as art produced in Armenia or by Armenians. A Roman temple in Lebanon or North Africa is still architecturally a Roman temple. A Chinese landscape is instantly identifiable. Perhaps then, Armenian painting has characteristics
that are distinctive and therefore identifiable. Whatever these characteristic might be they have not yet been commonly defined or accepted, though terms are sometimes applied such as "a rich palette," "seriousness" bordering on sadness, while other times one hears about the "exuberance" of Armenian art. Yet many of the paintings in this exhibit reveal none of these qualities. What if there are no shared traits among Armenian paintings in this exhibit, no recognizable Armenian types? We would be left then only with the common denominator of the ethnic origin of their creators. If that is so, who in fact has a right to belong to the family of "Armenian artists?" Are the canvases of a non-Armenian living in Armenia, say a Kurd or a Russian, part of what we call Armenian art? And what about the half Armenians or quarter or eighth Armenians, which William Saroyan, himself an artist, was so fond of referring to? What about a female artist bearing an Armenian name only through marriage, is her art Armenian because her name is Armenian? What is to be done with the contemporary abstract painters in Armenia -- Seyran Shatlamadjian (Rostov-on-the-Don 1937 - ), Marco
Grigorian, Varujan Vardanian (Erevan 1948 - ), Ashot Hovhannisian, Mkrtich Matevosian -- whose works have no reference to Armenian or any other kind of reality? What is Armenian about their art? Of course there are no answers to these questions; they are rhetorical and intended only to make us think about the term "Armenian art" as we approach this vast and ambitious Bochum exhibit devoted to it.
Art, particularly painting has been practiced continuously in historical Armenia from at least the first millennium before Christ.
Through archaeology we have discovered the polychrome frescoes of the Urartians and mosaics and frescoes from early Christian centuries, many still in situ. However, the greatest quantity of Armenian painting is preserved within the pages of the 30,000 surviving medieval Armenian manuscripts. Tens of thousands of miniatures provide a nearly decade by decade (at times year by year) record of Armenian art from the ninth to the eighteenth century.
This understudied mass of images displays an immense diversity and an energy comparable to any tradition of medieval painting, whether Byzantine Greek, Italian, French, or Persian. During the Renaissance, when patronage provided an impetus for the unparalleled rise of the plastic arts in Europe, a similar movement was taking place in Cilician Armenia, with a brilliantly artistic thirteenth century patronized by royalty and the church. Yet, while in the fourteenth century the West continued to flourish, producing Cimabue, Duccio, Giotto, and their successors in France and Italy, in Armenia the loss of patronage caused by the weakening and destruction of the Armenian kingdom resulted in a gradual decline in painting and the other arts.
Nevertheless, a regular flow of art continued under the sponsorship of the Armenian church and expressed through illustrations in Gospel books and other religious texts. Only in the eighteenth century did manuscript illumination disappear. When the already arcane art of manually copying and decorating texts finally gave way to printing, artists were driven to other media.
Coincidental with the end of Armenian self rule, there was mass migration of Armenians, both voluntary and forced, into Europe and Asia. It is no accident that the first Armenian book was printed in Venice in 1512 and that in the same sixteenth century Armenian colonies were flourishing from Amsterdam to Madras, from the Crimea to Ethiopia. When Armenian art took a new departure in the seventeenth century, sponsored by, canvas, fresco. The transitional period from manuscript illumination to canvasthe wealth of a prosperous merchant class,
painting showed an international eclecticism both in style and content. The medium changed:The confined space of the manuscript page was abandoned for larger surfaces: panel painting painting, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, has not been thoroughly studied. Frescoes, painted altar curtains, ceramics, and canvas paintings are preserved in churches and the homes of the wealthy from Constantinople to New Julfa (Isfahan), Egypt to the Crimea, in Central Europe, Aleppo, Jerusalem, and the Caucasus. Among artists we know by name are Minas Varpet , Minas the Master (ca.
1600-1670), a legendary painter of New Julfa in Iran, and Ter Stepanos, also from New Julfa, responsible for both manuscript illuminations from the mid-seventeenth century as well as large paintings in the Cathedral of New Julfa. The eighteenth century is represented by the Armenian Manasse family in Constantinople, who for three generations were official portrait painters of the Ottoman sultans. Yohanna al-Armeni (active 1745-1783) was among the most famous icon painters of the Coptic churches of Old Cairo. Oil paintings on wood and canvas from these centuries can be found in the collections of the Mekhitarists of Venice and Vienna, on the walls of the cathedral in Aleppo, Etchmiadzin, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. Some of these, especially from Etchmiadzin, have been reproduced, but few have been seriously studied. They represent the links in the unbroken chain of Armenian painters from the early middle ages to the
twentieth century.
Better known are the members of the illustrious Hovanatanian family, whose frescoes grace the walls of eastern Armenia churches and whose portraits of upperclass Armenians are the pride of museums in Erevan and Tiflis. Naghash Hovnatan (1661-1722), the famous poet and painter was the patriarch of the family. His grandson Hovnatan Hovnatanian (ca. 1730-1801) was responsible for large panel paintings still the glory of Etchmiadzin. It was his son Hakob Hovnatanian (1806-1881) who pioneered and perfected portraiture with a remarkable series depicting the upperclass Armenian bourgeoisie of Tiflis in the second half of the nineteenth century. Through the works of this single family we can trace the history of Armenian painting from the traditional techniques and subjects of medieval religious manuscripts to the broad secular canvases of the late nineteenth century.
The secularization of subject matter seen through the work of the Hovnatanian family leads in a straight line to the large seascapes of Hovhannes Aivazovsky (1817-1909), born in Theodosia in the Crimea. Already nineteenth century romanticism infuses many of Aivazovsky's later works with national subjects like Mt. Ararat. It nearly dominates the work of his younger contemporary Vardges Sureniantz (Akhaltskha, Georgia 1860 - Yalta 1921). Paradoxically, Armenian artists, like Sureniantz, while seeking out native historical themes as subjects, no longer looked for artistic inspiration in their nation's past. There focus was on trends in the western art. The painting techniques taught in European influenced art schools replaced methods learned in the monasteries. And for the first time the artist is no longer a priest.
The works of European based Armenian artists of the turn of the twentieth century are to be viewed in these terms. They are more easily understood and explained through occidental currents than native orientation, even though some of them occasionally introduced Armenian or oriental themes. Among this group are Zakar Zakarian (Constantinople 1849-1923 Paris), Charles Atamian (Constantinople 1872-1949 Paris), Edgar Chahine (Vienna/Constantinople 1873-1947 Paris), Hovsep Pushman (Diyarbekir 1877- 1966 New York). Those who remained in the Caucasus, especially in Tiflis, or in other traditional Armenian communities seemed to retain or cultivate, despite travel and study in Europe, a strong predilection toward an Armenian or oriental flavor. The major figure in this category from the older generation is unquestionably Martiros Saryan (Rostov on the Don 1880-1973 Erevan), who perhaps more than any other painter is
perceived as producing "Armenian" works. There are many others who share these attitudes, including Panos Terlemezian (Van 1867-1941 Erevan), Hakob Kodjoyan (Vladikavkaz 1883-1959 Erevan), Yervant Demirdjian (Constantinople 1870-1938 Cairo), and Sarkis Khatchadurian (Malatia 1886-1947 Paris).Early 20th Century By the turn of the twentieth century there was an explosion of artistic activity in Constantinople, Tiflis, Paris, all cut short by the Genocide of 1915. Afterward a series of isolated diasporan talents, detached from an Armenian environment, struggled toward a new personal expression: Hovsep Pushman (Diyarbekir 1877-1966 New York), Haig Patigian (1876-1947) Arshile Gorky (Vostanik Adoian, Khorkom, Van 1904-1948 New Milford, Connecticut), Rouben Nakian (College Point, New York 1897-1988 Stamford, Connecticut), John Altoon (LosAngeles 1925-1969), Raoul Hague (Heukelekian Constantinople 1905-1993 Woodstock, New York) in the United States; Zakarian, Chahine, Hakob Gurdjian (Shushi 1881-1948 Paris), Atamian, Leon Tutundjian (1905-1968 Paris), Khatchadourian, later Carzou (Carnig Zouloumian, Cairo 1907- ) and Jansem (Jean Semerdjian, Bursa 1920- ) in Paris; Gregorio Sciltian (Nor Nakhichevan 1900 - 1985 Milan) and Gerardo Orakian (Constantinople 1901-1963 Rome) in Italy; Sergei Paradjanov (1924-1990) in Georgia; Saryan, Yervant Kotchar (Tiflis 1899-1977 Erevan), and later Minas Avedissian (Erevan 1928-1975) and Hagop Hagopian (Alexandria 1923- ) in the new Armenian Republic.
After the Second World War, there seemed to be no limit to the number of Armenians attracted to art in every country of the diaspora:
Shart, Richard Jeranian (1923- ), Dikran Daderian, Assadour Bezdikian (Beirut 1943- ), Jean Kazandjian (Beirut 1938- ), Vahe Barsumian (Beirut 1943- ), Rouben Najarian, Alexan Birejiklian to name just a few in Paris; Paul Giragossian in Beirut; Hagop Khoubesserian (Cairo 1931- ) and Arto Tchakmakjian (1933- ) in Canada; Leone Minassian (Constantinople 1905- ), Herman Vahramian (Tehran 1940- ), and Henrig Bedrossian in Italy; Jirayr Zortahya 1912- ), Manuel Tolegian (Fresno 1911-1983 Sherman Oaks, California), Zadik Zadikian, and Amaduni in the United States. Second and third generation diasporan artists often had little or no contact with the Armenian community. Such practicing American artists as Sam Tchalakian (Shanghai 1929- ), Garo Antreassian (Indianapolis 1922- ), Milano Kazanjian ((Santa Monica 1943- ), Judith Simonian (Los Angeles 1945- ), and Charles Garabedian (Detroit 1923- ) are unknown within the most well informed circles of Armenian life even though a group show, "Five West Coast Artists of
Armenian Ancestry" at the Fresno Arts Museum in 1983 was devoted to them. The same can be said for scores of others in Europe and the Near East. The phenomenon of estrangement is not uncommon in the arts. Like other artists, Armenians too, have to accumulate their renown with the general public before they are recognized by the Armenian community.
Such artists, isolated from the community and from Armenia, are in no way dependant on Armenian patronage. This has been the reality behind the acclaim of all Armenian artists of international repute: Gorky, Nakian, Tutundjian, Carzou. This reflection is purely diasporan and has little meaning in the Republic of Armenia. Can We Define Armenian Art?
What is Armenian art after all? Is the work of the 19th and 20th century artists in this exhibit Armenian? Such questions are posed to allow us to explore the dimensions of national art. They can be answered by historical and comparative analysis. Perhaps the most famous Armenian painter from pre-modern times was the thirteenth century miniaturist Toros Roslin (fourished 1256-1269), whose works are displayed in this exhibit. Is his art Armenian? His Gospel illustrations would not have looked out of place in a Byzantine Greek manuscript of the same period or even in Italy as a worthy precursor of Duccio and Giotto.
We call Roslin's art Armenian because he was Armenian, he worked exclusively for Armenian royalty and the higher clergy, and the entire corpus of his work is contained in Armenian manuscripts. But is there he did follow decorative and iconographic conventions used by Armenian artists before him, but these were in part also the common artistic vocabulary of east Christian art of the time. On the other hand, he willing introduced working within the vision of a board international Christian style.
His painting is Armenian less by recognizable intrinsic qualities, than by our having learned to associate it and that of his students and contemporaries with the term "Armenian art." If we juxtapose Roslin's figural representation with that of other medieval Armenian artists, we discover a startling dissimilarity of treatment and a fundamental difference of outlook. Toros Roslin's Crucifixion of 1268 with its proto-Renaissance naturalism and its European borrowings, placed next to a Crucifixion from a manuscript of 1064 now in Jerusalem, executed in an Armenian monastery near Cappadocia, offers a convenient basis for comparison. Roslin's delicacy and attention to detail, his classicizing painting, is in sharp contrast to the native strength of the other work from a more hermetic environment where the artist shows no interest in the natural rendering of figures according to classical precepts. Rather the bodies are reduced to a few geometric shapes, at times established only by blocks of color. Christ, Mary and John are little more than flat rectangles.
One should not image that this is a unique example or that the two centuries separating these works explains their disparateness, for from the eleventh century, contemporary to the provincial style, there are Armenian works, like the Gospels of King Gagik of Kars, which display the same refined naturalism found in Toros Roslin's miniature.
Rather we have in these contrasting paintings of the same subject Armenian artists with totally different aesthetic criteria. It would be incorrect to regard Roslin's Crucifixion as any more or less "Armenian" than the one of 1064. The history of Armenian painting includes both of these works along with thousands of others found in Armenian manuscripts. This diversity of style and content has enriched Armenian art. Similarly, it would be dangerous to characterize the works of modern Armenian artists in this exhibit, whether from Armenia or the diaspora, as any more or less "Armenian" than those of earlier generations which have already been accepted in that category. We must be careful not to imagine that the presence of blatant national symbols -- Mt. Ararat, David of Sasun, St. Gregory, an Armenian church, a khatchkar -- makes a work any more Armenian than one in which they are absent.
We must also be mature enough to see that artists who intentionally work in abstraction, with canvases that have little
visible relation to the natural world, such as Gorky, Antreasian, and Tutundjian or contemporary artists from Erevan shown in this exhibit, not be disqualified as Armenian artists. No "national" art is easily defined. Abstraction and figural deviation from classical naturalism were often favored in medieval Armenian art.
Are There Common Traits in Modern Armenian Art? Are there features common to all modern or contemporary artists
of Armenian origin? The answer must be "no" unless we reduce the notion of common to such things as the use of canvas, brushes, and paint. But if the question was posed more thoughtfully: Are there themes or qualities that appear regularly in works of Armenian artists? Then perhaps one could answe r "yes." One often encounters the family and its unity as a theme, probably representing an attempt by the artist (Gorky for example) to unite on canvas that which was
dissolved by the Genocide. Due to that same dreadful experience, figures in Armenian paintings are often sad, pained, or anguish ridden (Orakian). Another common characteristic is the palette: colors tend to be deep, rich, brilliant like those of the manuscript illuminations or oriental rugs and textiles so habitual in Armenian households. A more subtle, but still very frequent, theme is the longing to escape from a reality which was not only difficult because of poverty and
estrangement, the shared lot of all new immigrants, but constantly disturbed by the memory of massacre and loss. This tendency is manifested in many ways: the flight to fantasy where nature is intentionally distorted or reordered (Gorky, Tutundjian, Garabedian, Altoon, Carzou) or surrendered to the precision and exactness of geometric abstractions (Tutundjian, Assadour, Vahramian, Mkrtchian), which instantly nullifies the normal unpredictability and messiness of
real life.
Armenian artists, whether creating in the homeland or the diaspora, are in the last analysis artists. As such they bring to
their creativity, consciously or unconsciously, the legacy of heredity and environment that is each person's lot in the acting out of his or her life. Works of art -- even those which appear transparently simple -- are as complex as the beings who are responsible for them.
Though they can be instantly and instinctively appreciated and liked or disliked, they require a lot of looking, reflecting, and relooking to be more profoundly and completely understood. Such an effort will reward the viewer of this exhibition with the realization that despite apparent differences in the works of these painters, they share, in addition to a common ethnic bond rooted in a perceived awareness of the millennia old tradition of Armenia art, an inner integrity, a disturbing intensity, and a cohesive artistic vision. Or national labels, the works of these painters will serve to define and give dimension to the term "Armenian art," an art which remains as complex and rich today as it has been in past centuries.

Dr. Dickran Kouymjian
Haig & Isabel Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies
Director, Center for Armenian Studies
California State University, Fresno

List of Artists in Exhibit
Aivazovsky Hovhannes Theodosia Crimea (1817-1909)
Arevshatian, Ruben 1993 installation
Assadour (Beirut 1948 -
Avetissian Minas
Carzou (1907 -
Chahine Edgar (Vienna 1874 - Paris 1947)
Gorky (Khorkom, Van1904- Connecticut1948Arshile Jean
Grigorian, Marco 1991 abstract, 1991 geometric,
Grigorian, Ruben 1994 graphic with German, 1994 abstract. 1994 greman
Grigorian. Arman 1994 mixed repre & abstract, 1994
Gurdjian Hagop
Hagopian Hagop
Hamalbashian, Sarkis 1991 mixed real + painterly
Hovhannisian, Ashot 1972-75, abstract, 1973, abstract,
Hovnatanian Hakob Tiflis (1806-1881)
Hovsepian, Ara 1990 environment with painting, 1990 surreal, 1990
Khatchatrian, Gayané
Kotchar Yervand (Tiflis 1899 - Erevan 1979)
Matevosian, Mkrtitch abst, , 1977 abst,
Mkrtichian, Karo 1993 linear abst, 1992, linear abst.,
Nakian Reuben (1899-1988)
Nerkararian, Arax 1991 photo + cariacature
Paradjanov Sergei
Sarian Martiros (Nor Nakhichevan 1880 - Erevan 1972)
Shatlamadjian, Seyran 1979 abstract. 1990 abstract, 1972 abstract
Sureniants Vardges (Akhaltskha, Georgia1860- Yalta, Crimea 1921)
Tapyuli Ohannes
Tchakmakchian Arto
Tutundjian Leon (1904-1969)
Vardanian, Varujan 1993 abstract, 1993, abst.,1994 abst.
Yakulov Gerogi
Zakarian Zakar
List of Artists Cited in Kouymjian Text
Aivazovsky, Hovhannes
Altoon, John
Antreassian, Garo
Assadour (Bezdikian, Assadour)
Barsumian, Vahe
Bedrossian, Henrig
Birejiklian, Alexan
Daderian, Dikran
Demirdjian, Yervant
Garabedian, Charles
Grigorian, Marco
Gurdjian, Hakob
Hague, Raoul
Hovhannisian, Ashot
Hovnatan, Naghash
Hovnatanian, Hakob
Jeranian, Richard
Kazandjian, Jean
Kazanjian, Milano
Khatchadurian, Sarkis
Khoubesserian, Hagop
Kodjoyan, Hakob
Kotchar, Yervant
Matevosian, Mkrtitch
Minas the Master
Minassian, Leone
Najarian, Roupen
Nakian, Rouben
Orakian, Gerardo
Patigian, Haig
Pushman, Hovsep
Saroyan, William
Saryan, Martiros
Sciltian, Gregorio
Shatlamadjian, Seyran
Simonian, Judith
Sureniantz, Vardges
Tchakmakjian, Arto
Tchalakian, Sam
Ter Stepanos
Terlemezian, Panos
Tolegian, Manuel
Toros Roslin
Tutundjian, Leon
Vahramian, Herman
Vardanian, Varujan
Yohanna al-Armani
Zadikian, Zadik
Zakarian, Zakar
Zorthian, Jirair

The Armenian Studies Program web page is sponsored by a grant from The Bertha and John Garabedian Charitable Foundation, Fresno