Opening of the renovated Art of Armenia
exhibition following restoration work in the premises
On 7 December 2006 the renovated Art of Armenia exhibition opened in the State Hermitage following restoration work in the premises. This permanent exhibition takes in a huge historical period, from the 1st to 19th centuries. Hellenistic culture, which left important traces in the art of Armenia, is represented by a very special monument. This is the gift of the Government of Armenia to the Hermitage - a capital from a pagan temple in Garni built in the 1st century and dedicated to the ancient Armenian pagan sun god Aregu - Mikhru. Destroyed by an earthquake, it is now fully restored thanks to a scientific reconstruction.
The exhibition displays a wide variety of monuments that typify the art and culture of medieval Armenia. A significant and important part comprises illustrated manuscripts. The first manuscript books appeared in Armenia in the 5th century, immediately after the creation of the Armenian alphabet in 405 by Mesrop Mashtots. This alphabet is still in use today. The exhibition features manuscripts created at various literary centers both inside Armenia and beyond its borders. One of them is the well-known Vaspurakan Gospel (Four Gospels) of 1395. Cilician miniatures, representing the height of Armenian book illustrations, are among the treasures of the exhibition. They decorate a Bible which was created at the behest of Smbat, son of Lewon the Sparapet (military commander) and the Four Gospels (1290-1291) written by T'oros the Philosopher in Drazarka.
At the end of the 11th century, an Armenian State of Cilicia was established in the southeastern part of the Mediterranean. It existed for around three centuries. Its geographic situation determined the unique and inimitable nature of the country's art. In Cilicia, as a result of the traditions of Central Armenia, there was a blending of features of art from West and East that took on a new character. Alongside miniatures, Cilician art is represented by monuments of silversmiths: a chalice known as the Vilgort Chalice (found in 1925 in the village of Vilgort in the Urals region), and a masterpiece of medieval Armenian art, the pride of the Hermitage collection - the Skevr Reliquary triptych. In the middle section, the relics of saints were kept. The preserved inscriptions mention the names of the Holy Apostles Peter, Paul, Thaddeus and Saint Gregory the Illuminator. On 12 July 2000, sanctified reliquaries were turned over by the State Hermitage to the Armenian Church and now they are kept in the main Armenian cathedral of St. Echmiadzin.
The rich interior decoration of Armenia's medieval architectural structures can be appreciated from the 9th century wooden capitals on display. They once decorated the galleries of secular buildings and were later used in the vestibule of the church of the Apostles in the Sevan Monastery. Also noteworthy are a relief depicting the rulers Vayots-Dzor Eachi and Amir -Hasan II on the facade of the Church of Astvatsatsin Spitakavor (White Virgin) which they had built in 1325 and the remarkable carved door of the Church of St Sargis (1371) in Kaffa (present-day Feodosia), as well as a number of other monuments.
The exhibition also displays khachkars (cross-stones: khach - cross; kar - stone). After Armenia adopted Christianity in 301, the symbol of the new faith was the wooden cross, which was set up in various holy places. The first attempts at replacing wooden crosses by stone date from the 4th - 7th centuries. The evidence for them is so-called ‘winged' crosses that set the basis for a new type of monument - the khachkars, which are unlike anything in the art of other countries. The khachkar occupied an exceptionally important place in the life of Armenians, just as the icon did for Russian believers. Khachkars were also bearers of colossal information, inasmuch as the commemorative inscriptions carved into their reverse side reflected "every step in the life of the nation."
A significant part of the exhibited materials owes its existence to archeological excavations carried out by Russian and Soviet archeologists from the end of the 19th century through the 20th century on the territory of the ancient capitals of Armenia - the cities of Ani and Dvina, as well as the fortress of Anberd. Nikolai Marr's excavations in the city of Ani gave the Hermitage examples of monumental painting that are rarely encountered even in the best Armenian collections. Three fragments depicting the Savior, Our Lady and an unknown saint come from a church built at the beginning of the 13th century in the city of Ani by the wealthy lady burgher Bakhtageki. Small bronze mortars, crosses and ceramic items also come from the digs.
Silver objects dating from the 17th - 19th centuries constitute a significant group of monuments - liturgical vessels used during services and everyday objects that attest to the creative fantasy and high professionalism of the Armenian masters who created them.
The room where the renovated Art of Armenia exhibition is situated is dedicated to the memory of Academician Joseph Abgarovich Orbeli, director of the State Hermitage from 1931 to 1954. This is set out in a marble memorial plaque in his honor.