Siunik
 

     Siunik, a province to the Southeast of Lake Sevan, was one such area, and it was here that the last two Armenian medieval academics - Gladzor and Tatev - were founded and prospered. The Gladzor academy, or university, set up in the second half of the thirteenth century on the basis of a monastery, had a very high reputation throughout the country. It was not a monastery in the ordinary sense of the word, but a true university, and many people from different parts of Armenia, even from far-away Cilicia, came to Gladzor to study or to perfect their knowledge.

Among the teachers at Gladzor were many celebrated scholars of the time - Nerses Mshetsi, founder of the university, a scholar who "knew the tongue of the Greeks well", and Yesai Ntchetsi, rhetorician, philosopher and a prominent political figure. Many future famous scientists and historians were educated at the University of Gladzor, which was also a cultural centre with its own manuscript tradition and school of book illumination.

The miniature art in Siunik was strongly influenced by its earlier tradition of ornamentation. But even though the khorans and marginals mostly comprised motifs and symbols of pre-Christian art - totems, allegories of good and evil or of the forces of nature (dragons, unicorns, griffins, etc.), the Siunik miniature of the thirteenth century developed a realistic style. Another distinctive feature of Siunik art of that period was its affinity to the Cilician artistic tradition, no doubt because the academies in Siunik attracted laymen and priests from Cilicia; some of whom must have been artists.

Local traditions found their most consistent manifestation in work by the artist Mateos and Momik, architect,stone-carver and miniaturist. Their work is remarkable for its florid style and its a poetic character hitherto unknown to medieval Armenian art. These qualities are particularly apparent in Momikís khachkars, whose delicate carving makes one forget the solidity and weight of stone.

 

Khoran of the Bible
1318, Gladzor monastery, Siunik
Written by Stepanos, illuminated by Toros Toronatsi.

Taronatsi was one of the most productive artists of the Gladzor School. A pupil of Yesai Ntchetsi, he was not only a talented miniaturist but also a famous poet of his time. His early miniatures were strongly influenced by the ancient traditions of local pictorial art. The khorans and borders abound in fantastic monsters - human-headed birds (sometimes having two heads), snakes and dragons, symbols of evil, fighting with each other or tearing at their prey, or else, according to the Christian tradition, slain by warrior-saints who are trampling their prostrate bodies.

 

The Annunciation
The Gospels
1323, Gladzor Monastery, Siunik
Written and illuminated by Toros Taronatsi

Later works by Taronatsi show influences by Cilician miniature painting, concerned with the decorative character of the illumination combined with iconography features and images, as with this illumination of the Annunciation in the 1323 Gospels.

The Gladzor academy ceased to exist with the death of Yesai Ntchetsi in 1338, but its traditions survived in other monastery schools of Armenia, particularly in the University of Tatev which, after Gladzor, was the second most famous educational institution in Armenia.

 

St. Mathew
The Gospels of 1297
1297, written in the village of Eligis by Hovhannes
1378, illuminated in the monastery of Tatev by Grigor Tatevatsi, 1378

Tatevatsi - a prominent politician, philosopher and artist-was the head of the Tatev academy for many years. The distinctive features of his miniatures are their skilful use of folk ornamental motifs, the way he lent an intimacy to the depicted scenes, and their almost fresco like appearance.

In this miniature, the background buildings resemble existing buildings of the time in Siunik. The same is true of the chair on which the evangelist is seated: similar wooden chairs are still in use in Armenian villages.

 

The Annunciation
The Gospels
14th century, the Crimea(?)
Names of scribe and illuminator unknown

Among those Matenadaran manuscripts whose colophons have been lost there are three remarkable fourteenth-century, whose origin has only recently been established. The style of illumination in these Gospels is a synthesis of Cilician tradition and the traditions of the Byzantine Renaissance, with its Hellenistic flavour and a quest for a more realistic pictorial representation.

 

The Psalms as Interpreted by Grigor Tatevatsi
Late 14th or early 15thcentury, place of production unknown
Scribe unknown, illuminated by Tadeos Avraments (?)

The anonymous artist must have actually met Grigor Tatevatsi, celebrated scholar, philosopher and artist, since the details in the portrait are very natural, including the half-closed left eye and slightly drooping mouth, perhaps the result of an illness or stroke. The illumination breaks with medieval tradition by depicting a specific person. Very like recorded descriptions of the scholarís appearance, this miniature was regarded at the time as an authentic likeness, and copied by different artists over the years.

Towards the end of the fourteenth century the economic and political situation in Armenia grew steadily worse: one by one monastic scriptoria cut down on their production of manuscripts. The art of manuscript illumination was only kept alive in the remote monasteries of South and East Armenia. The schools of illumination in the province of Vaspurikan and nearby came to represent the highest achievements of Armenian miniature painting.

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