A monumental 12th-century Khatchkar, – a 2,000-pound, nearly 8-foot-tall block of basalt, carved on its surface with symbols of the four evangelists, a massive cross, small birds at fountains, and surrounding patterns of interlacing – is now on display in the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries for Byzantine art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is on special long-term loan from the State History Museum of Armenia in Yerevan.
This is the first display of a Khatchkar – a commemorative object whose name means cross (khatch) of stone (kar) in Armenian – in any museum in the United States. The Khatchkar now on view originated in Lori, the Republic of Armenia's northernmost province, which is known for its spectacular forested landscapes.
The Hagop Kevorkian Fund generously supported the transportation and installation of the Khatchkar.
"This Khatchkar is an exceptional example of the importance of the Gospels to the Armenian people," said Helen C. Evans, the Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator of Byzantine Art at the Metropolitan, "in that it depicts of the cross of salvation rising from the symbols of the four evangelists who wrote the Gospels – the angel of Matthew, the lion of Mark, the ox of Luke, and the eagle of John. We are extremely grateful to the many members of the Armenian community, both in Armenia and here in the U.S., who made possible this loan, which represents the great medieval artistic tradition of the Armenian people."
The Armenians, who recognized Christianity as their state religion at the beginning of the fourth century, have long maintained an independent Christian tradition. Located on the eastern border of Byzantium during medieval times, they frequently installed imposing Khatchkars as memorials to the dead and to mark local events of significance. The Khatchkar now on view at the Metropolitan Museum comes from the northern region that fell to the Mongols in 1238, not long after it was carved. It features designs typical of the decoration of Armenian Gospel manuscripts, particularly pages from canon tables, and is thought never to have had an inscription. The exquisitely carved interlaces form a 'frame' around the monumental cross, which rests above the symbols of the evangelists. The large head of Saint Matthew's angel presides over the smaller heads of Saint Mark's lion, Saint Luke's ox (on its side), and Saint John's eagle (in profile). The presence of evangelist symbols is rare in Khatchkars of the medieval period.
The installation was organized and overseen by Helen Evans. She traveled to Armenia with Jack Soultanian Jr., Conservator in the Department of Objects Conservation at the Metropolitan, to select the Khatchkar under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and the State History Museum, and in consultation with the Office of the President of Armenia.
This fall, additional works of Armenian art will be installed in a case adjacent to the Khatchkar, including manuscripts from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum and works on loan from other institutions.
A special Sunday at the Met afternoon of lectures on the importance of Armenian medieval art and culture, along with a performance of medieval Armenian music, will take place on Sunday, November 23, 2008. Details will follow on the website of the Metropolitan Museum at www.metmuseum.org.
The Sunday at the Met program is made possible by The Hagop Kevorkian Fund.
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April 30, 2008