Armenia at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has a new exhibit of art and artifacts from Armenia at the museum until January 13, 2019. I decided to visit it since one of the characters in my novel, Imperial Passions – The Porta Aurea, was the last king of the Armenian kingdom with its capital in Ani, Gagik.

Armenia was an important buffer area between the Byzantines and the rulers of Persia. King Gagik’s father had signed a treaty with Emperor Basil II, willing to him his Armenian kingdom upon his death. The Byzantine government was in some turmoil when Gagik’s father died in 1040 so it did not make a claim for several years. Young Gagik was inclined to try and keep his throne, but other ambitious nobles betrayed him in hopes of taking it for themselves. Ironically, Gagik was treated fairly well by the Byzantines and given positions of responsibility, while those who betrayed him never achieved what they had wanted.

One thing I learned from this exhibit is that the Armenians were spread over a large area and had several different kingdoms. Sadly, I saw only one item that came from Ani, shown below. It is a copper alloy ewer that has traces of gilding on it. It was excavated in 1906 in the ruins of Ani near a door of the Church of St. Gregory of Gagik.

Here are a few photos of Armenian jewelry. (Sorry, but I do enjoy looking a little sparkly things like this!)

It was interesting to compare the Armenian illustrated manuscripts with Byzantine manuscripts. While there are similarities between them, the Armenian artwork contains a decidedly more eastern look to them, as you can see here:

There were also quite a few khachkars – a kind of stele, or grave marker with elaborate beautiful carvings.

Some wood carvings survived through the centuries. This first item is a door from the Church of the Holy Apostles at Lake Sevan:

And here is a capital from a wooden column at the Church of the Mother of God, also at Lake Sevan:

One last bit of bling: a Reliquary Cross containing relics of St. John the Baptist. It is of gilded silver decorated with coral and pearls and other precious and semi-precious stones. It came from the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia.

This exhibit was much larger than I had expected, given the frequently war torn areas that the Armenians inhabited. If you have any Armenian heritage, or have an interest in this part of the world, I can highly recommend paying a visit to the Met sometime in the next two months to take a look at this fascinating collection.

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Eileen Stephenson

Eileen Stephenson

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