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The Aght'amar wall paintings: some new observations The Church of the Holy Cross on the island of Aght'amar is rare among mediaeval Armenian monuments, both for its state of preservation and the completeness of documentation. There is a carved donor panel, a contemporary chronicle which devotes considerable space to the church and its decorations, and a later church chronicle which mentions and to some extent dates many of the events which left their mark on this monument. The Aght'amar church has been the subject of four major monographic studies and has had scores of articles devoted to it. It has become a pivotal monument in any discussion of mediaeval Armenian art and has been frequently cited by other mediaevalists, particularly those working within Byzantine art and in iconographic studies of Old and New Testament cycles. However, I feel that some of the basic assumptions concerning the dating, stylistic origins and the function of the monument need to be questioned and it is the purpose of this paper to question some of these assumptions particularly in reference to the Aght'amar wall paintings. The island of Aght'amar is in the enormous inland lake of Van which is situated in what is now Eastern Turkey. In the Middle Ages, this was traditionally the heartland of the Armenian Vaspourakan region which played a significant role in Armenian cultural history over a period of about a thousand years. Scores of Armenian churches and monasteries survive in this region and numerous illuminated Vaspourakan manuscripts are extant. The ktetor, "founder", of the church of the Holy Cross was Gag(h)ik Artzruni, a member of a princely family which rose to prominence in the later period of the Arab occupation. Prince Gag(h)ik was installed as a puppet ruler of Vaspourakan by Yousuf, the emir of Arzebaidjian, in 914 in opposition to the Armenian king in Ani. Through a skilful combination of betrayals, assassinations and limited warfare he won the support of the Calif in Bagdad and commenced a peaceful reign in Van between 914 to 926. In 926 the emir of Azerbaidjian attacked the Vaspourakan region and a period of warfare began and lasted until 931 when a new threat arose with the arrival of the victorious Byzantine armies of John Kurkuas. Gag(h)ik, by entering into the Byzantine sphere of influence, lost the support of the Calif of Bagdad and much of Vaspourakan was devastated by the armies of the emir of Azerbaidjian until Gag(h)ik managed to defeat him in 936. Then there was a second period of relative peace between 936 and Gag(h)ik's death in 943. Shortly after this Vaspourakan became a battle ground between the Byzantines and the Seljuks. Much of the Armenian population was expelled from the region in 1021 when the territory was ceded to the Byzantines and finally the Byzantines themselves withdrew after their defeat in the battle of Manzikert in 1071. However, even after the mass exodus of Armenians from Vaspourakan 40 A.D. Grishin in 1021, Aght'amar remained in Armenian hands, primarily as a monastic community and a seat of an Armenian Katholikos. I t was only totally abandoned in 1917. Apart from the monument itself, and several later inscriptions, our main source of information i s the contemporary ninth- or tenth- century literary text entitled "The History of the House of Artzruni", commenced by a certain Thomas Artzruni and apparently commissioned by King Gag(h)ik himself. On the church itself there i s no surviving accessible dedicatory inscription and even on the ktetor relief there i s no trace of an inscription and the crowned donor remains unnamed. The literary source itself does present us with several problems as i t only survives in a manuscript of 1303 and i s a compilation of the work of three authors. The first of these i s Thomas Artzruni who was responsible for that section which deals with the history of the world from Adam to 874, a second contemporary author either supplements or totally replaces the subsequent part of the text, while a much later continuator adds a postscript concerning some later events. The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 39-51
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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