The international Armenian community remains loyal to strong cultural traditions, many of which have enriched the societies into which Armenians emigrated. Cultural tradition has been a means of maintaining a sense of national unity among widely dispersed groups of Armenians.
Literature and the Arts
The Armenians became active in literature and many art forms at a very early point in their civilization. Urartian metalworking and architecture have been traced back to about 1000 B.C. The beginning of truly national art is usually fixed at the onset of the Christian era. The three great artistic periods coincided with times of independence or semi-independence: from the fifth to the seventh century; the Bagratid golden age of the ninth and tenth centuries; and the era of the kingdom of Lesser Armenia in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries.
Of especially high quality in the earlier periods were work in gold and bronze, as well as temples, military fortifications, and aqueducts. In the early Christian era, classical church architecture was adapted in a series of cathedrals. The circular domes typical of Armenian churches were copied in Western Europe and in Ottoman Turkey. The best example of the distinctive architectural sculpture used to adorn such churches is the early tenth-century Church of the Holy Cross on an island in Lake Van. The architecture of contemporary Erevan is distinguished by the use of pinkish tufa stone and a combination of traditional Armenian and Russian styles.
Armenian painting is generally considered to have originated with the illumination of religious manuscripts that thrived from the ninth to the seventeenth century. Armenian painters in Cilicia and elsewhere enriched Byzantine and Western formulas with their unique use of color and their inclusion of Oriental themes acquired from the Mongols. Many unique Armenian illuminated manuscripts remain in museums in the West.
The nineteenth century saw a blooming of Armenian painting. Artists from that period, such as the portrait painter Hacop Hovnatanian and the seascape artist Ivan Aivazovsky, continue to enjoy international reputations. Notable figures of the twentieth century have included the unorthodox Alexander Bazhbeuk-Melikian, who lived a persecuted existence in Tbilisi, and the émigré surrealist Arshile Gorky (pseudonym of Vosdanik Adoian), who greatly influenced a generation of young American artists in New York. Other émigré painters in various countries have continued the tradition as well.
The Armenian literary tradition began early in the fifth century A.D. with religious tracts and histories of the Armenians. The most important of these were written by Agathangelos, Egishe, Movses Khorenatsi, and Pavstos Buzand. A secular literature developed in the early modern period, and in the eighteenth century Armenian Catholic monks of the Mekhitarist order began publishing ancient texts, modern histories, grammars, and literature. In the nineteenth century, Armenians developed their own journalism and public theater. Khachatur Abovian wrote the first Armenian novel, Verk Haiastani (The Wounds of Armenia), in the early 1840s. Armenian literature and drama often depict struggles against religious and ethnic oppression and the aspirations of Armenians for security and self-expression.
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