Arts of Armenia-Vocabulary


* Terms in red are Architectural terms.

Ambulatory
- A sheltered place or passageway for walking through or around, such as a cloister.

Animal Letters - Letters of the alphabet in the form of animals or (in the Armenian case) birds.



Apse -A semicircular or polygonal space used in Armenian architecture as the housing of the altar. Usually vaulted or domed. An apse may be visible outside the church or may be disguised with masonry. 



Architectonic - Architectural qualities observed in subjects which are not typically architectural ones. Something having design characteristics relating to architecture.



Articulation - The act of expressing a feeling or idea through artistic methods.


Atelier - French word for workshop, especially artist workshop.

 

B



Basalt - A hard, dense, dark volcanic rock often having a glassy appearance.



Basilica- Originally a type of public building used as a hall of justice and commerce. Basilicas had a rectangular plan on an east west axis, containing one to three aisles. This plan was adopted by Armenian architects and other early Christian church builders. The Armenians built basilicas with an apse on the eastern end of the church and the main entrance usually at the western end.



Beveling - The meeting of a line or surface with another at any angle other than 90°. Also, any carving or cutting to make a bevel. 


Bi-folio - A sheet of parchment or paper folded in half.

Binder - The person who executes the covers (binding) for a manuscript or book.

Blind Tooled - Ungilded or uncolored tool work or leather; see tooling.

Blind arcade - A blind arcade is an arcade that is composed of a series of arches that has no actual openings and that is applied to the surface of a wall as a decorative element: i.e. the arches are not windows or openings but are part of the masonry face.

Boards - Wooden panels attached to the sewn block of a manuscript or book upon which leather is stretched for the binding.

Bolorgir - Form of Armenian script with capitals (majuscule) and small letters (minuscule) from which modern Armenian type face evolved.

Buttress - A mass of masonry or brickwork used as a support or brace for counteracting the outward thrust of an arch, vault, or dome. A pier buttress is a solid mass of masonry. A flying buttress is one which reaches over a side aisle to support the heavy stone roof of a cathedral or church.

Byzantine - Referring to the Eastern or Later Roman Empire; Greek speaking part of the Roman Empire, capital at village of Byzantium, later called Constantinople; from the time of the founding of the city, 330 to its fall in 1453.

 

C

Caldarium - The hot-bath section of a Roman bathing establishment.



Calligraphy - Decorative and artistic writing.

Cauldron - A large ornamental vessel, such as a kettle or deep bowl, used for boiling.

 Used in the preparation of Holy Muron.

Canon Tables - An index for the four synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which works like an index (or concordance); usually displayed under decorated arches in vertical columns and placed at the beginning of the Gospel Books.

Caravansaray - An inn built around a large court that would house caravans as they rested the night.



Carolingian - Referring to the great empire of Charlemagne in Western Europe, roughly from the late 8th to the late 10th centuries.

Catholicosate - The place where the Catholicos, the head of the Armenian church, resides. There are currently two Catholicos’ for the Armenian church. They are seated in Etchmiadzin and Cilicia.



Central Plan -The ultimate design in the centralized plan is the perfectly circular church. The floor plan is in the form of a perfect circle, with a central dome.

Chalice - A decorated cup or goblet for the consecrated wine of the Eucharist (see picture).

Classicizing Style - Emulates or tries to copy the form or character of the art of classical antiquity, that is of the Greeks and Romans up to the fifth century A.D.

Clerestory - The purpose is to admit light, fresh air, or both. Historically, clerestory denoted an upper level of a Roman basilica or of the nave of a Romanesque or Gothic church, the walls of which rise above the rooflines of the lower aisles and are pierced with windows. Often in clusters of three denoting the Trinity.

Codex - A manuscript with pages made of folded sheets. It replaced the scroll, which was different in that it was rolled paper; A book in our sense of the word, as opposed to a roll.

Codicology - The study of the codex, the technical examination of the manuscript as an object, as opposed to the study of the text of a manuscript (it contains) or its art.

Colophon - The prose text written by the scribe who wrote the manuscript, noting important details about the publication and personal information, such as his name, the name of the artist or patron, the place and time the work was copied, as well the Catholicos and ruler of the period. Usually at the end of a book, print, manuscript, or piece of calligraphy, or on a painting. There are also colophons of artists and binders and patrons of manuscripts; often placed at the end. (Greek for finishing touch).



Coptic - The ancient Egyptian language after they became Christian. A language written with a special script inspired by the Greek alphabet.

Cruciform - Cross-shaped, arranged in a cross. Some small Armenian chapels were cruciform.



Cupola - A cylindrical, domed structure forming a roof or a ceiling, elevated above other vaulted ceilings by a cylindrical drum. Armenians turned the single nave church and basilica into structures in which the cupola was centralized and was the “focal point.”

Cycle - Series of paintings, miniatures, which for a set; Life of Christ Cycle, Prefatory Cycle (miniature arranged before a text).

 

D

Decorated Initial - An ornamental letter, usually with geometric and floral elements.

Dedication - A specially decorated page in a manuscript honoring the patron or commissioner.

Deesis - An image of Christ flanked by the Virgin and John the Baptist on the upper cover and the four Evangelists standing together on the lower. This image can be seen as a silver binding dating in 1255 on a Cilician manuscript.



Diaspora -The term given to the dispersion of the Armenian people, after the genocide, to different parts of the world.



Dome -a rounded vault forming the roof of a building or structure, typically with a circular base. It is an architectural element that resembles the hollow upper half of a sphere. See also Cupola.

Donor - A person who pays for the coping of a manuscript; see Patron.

Drachma - A silver coin weighing 4.36 grams, the most commonly circulated money of international trade. A basic unit of currency in Greece. 


Drum -in architecture, it is the upright part of a building on which a dome is raised. It is generally in the shape of a cylinder or a polygonal prism.

Doublure - The cloth lining on the inside of the upper and lower covers (Boards) of a manuscript binding to cover the naked wood on the inside; universally used in Armenian manuscripts.

 

E

Edifice - A building, especially one of imposing appearance or size.



Effigy - A likeness or picture of a person or scene that was stamped or sculpted onto coins, example; Athena and a Victory, Alexander the Macedonian, the Artashesian sovereigns, etc. On the opposite side, the name and title of the ruler was printed. Used on the Armenian market.

Emboss - To produce a raised design, pattern or letting on a plain surface by stamping, molding, carving or impressing on it an engraved die.


Endpaper - Page or pages of books and manuscripts, usually pasted down; see Flyleaf.

Erkat'agir - Oldest form of Armenian manuscript writing. Letters are all in large upright capitals.

Etchmiadzin - The spiritual center of the Armenian Church, in the Republic of Armenia, where the Catholicos, supreme patriarch of the Armenian church, resides. Location of the oldest Armenian church; name of a Gospel manuscript once kept there.

Echmiadzin Gospel - The most famous Armenian manuscript with several distinct artistic parts, each from a different period; the manuscript itself was executed in 989 A.D.; at the back two folios were added, four pages with miniatures. believed to date to the late sixth or early seventh century. There are marginal miniatures probably added in the eleventh century; the manuscript has ivory covers (perhaps of Byzantine origin) that date from the sixth century.

Eucharist - Celebration of Christ's sacrifice.

Eusebian Letter - A letter written by Bishop Eusebius, the inventor of the Canon Tables, to Bishop Carpianus explaining how to use the index system to find passages in the Gospel narrative. Eusebius was a Bishop at Caesarea in Palestine in the first half of the 4th century. The letter is always placed under arches that are decorated just before the Canon Tables at the beginning of a Gospel manuscript.

Evangelist Portrait - Very often individual, idealized portraits of the Evangelists are painted just after Canon Tables or preceding each of their Gospels.

Evangile - The first four books of the New Testament, the Four Gospels, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John.

Exemplar - A manuscript or book from which another is copied.

Expressionistic - A style of painting that conveys a sense of heightened emotionality. This often entails a mannered or exaggerated treatment of forms. 

 

F

Façade - The front of a building. The façade accents the entrance of a building and usually prepares the visitor for the architectural style found inside. Also, any other sides of a building when they are emphasized architecturally.



Facet - One of the flat polished surfaces cut on a gemstone or occurring naturally on a stone or crystal.



Filigree - Delicate and intricate ornamental work especially of fine wire of gold, silver or copper applied chiefly to gold and silver surfaces. Lacelike openwork patterns or designs were found on items such as chalices, belts purses and earrings (see picture).

Flyleaf - A page or pages at the beginning and end of manuscripts used to protect the text proper; in Armenian manuscripts almost always recycled pages from earlier manuscripts; see ENDPAPER.

Folio - A single sheet of paper folded once to make two leaves, or four pages of a book. The upper side is called the recto and the verso is the backside. A folio folded in half is called a bi-folium. 



Fresco - A method of painting on plaster either dry or wet. In the latter method, pigments are applied to thin layers of wet plaster so that they will be absorbed and the painting becomes part of the wall.



Frigadarium - The cold-bath section of a Roman bathing establishment.

 

G

Garrison - A military post or station. A fortress.


Gathering - A group of bi-folia tucked into one anther; example, taking four sheets of paper and folding them together to get eight folios or six pages, eight sheets with two sides each.

Gavit - A square planned hall. Popular in monastic complexes, they served as meeting rooms and vestibules. (See Narthex.)



Gospel/Gospels - The first four books of the New Testament, the Gospels of St. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, bound together. Such a book is referred to in the plural, Gospels or as a Gospel Book; see also Evangile.

Gothic - The name given to the style of architecture, painting, and sculpture which flourished in western Europe, mainly France and England, between the 12th and 15th centuries (the later Middle Ages).

Ground plan - the plan of a building at ground level as imagined seen from above; the general outline or basis of a plan. Ex. dark lines represent walls in the structure.

 

H

Headpiece - The decorated element at the beginning of text or chapter in a manuscript; often rectangular or trilobed.

Hellenistic -A period and style of Mediterranean culture influenced by the Greek art world following the conquests of Alexander the Great. The expression of inner emotions was more important than beauty to the artists of this period. Hyper realism characterized this period. (pictured)

Hexafoil - A six lobed structure. This building uses the walls to create more area of support for a dome above it.



Hieratic - Extremely formalized or stylized art; priestly art. 



Hripsime - Church named after a character in the story of the history of Etchmiadzin. St. Hripsime is a prime example of a radiating plan, so much that the radiating plan is often referred to as a Hripsime plan. The radiating plan is characterized by an interior tetraconch with three-quarter cylinder niches at the intersection of each apse. This creates an octagonal base to support a tall cylindrical drum. Usually leading off the corner niches are chambers either circular in shape or square. The highly symmetrical plan is considered the most uniquely Armenian plan of all churches.



 

I

Icon - Wooden panel with a painting, usually in tempera, of Christ, the Virgin Mary or another religious subject. Icons could be represented in paintings, mosaic, niello or other art form in two dimension. Typical icons consist of small paintings embellished with a repoussé cover of silver or other metal, cut out to reveal the central part of the picture.



Iconography - Pictorial material relating to or illustrating a subject. The traditional or conventional images or symbols associated with a subject and especially a religious or legendary subject. The study of the composition of an image and the elements of which it is made. Iconography also studies the changes and developments of compositional elements over time. Discovery of symbolic meanings in a work of art.



Illumination - From Latin illuminare, "to enlighten or illuminate," the embellishment of a manuscript with luminous colors, especially gold and sometimes silver.

Illuminator - Artist who carries out the illuminations.

Illusionistic - Painting which successfully creates the impression of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface.

Impressionistic - Painting which conveys the appearance of natural things by suggesting light, movement, and space without rendering them in a precise realist fashion.

Incipit - The opening words of a text, from the Latin, incipere "to begin." Ex. in the Gospel of 1166, executed in Cilicia.

Incunabula - From Latin in cunabula "in the cradle" or "orgins", a technical term referring to printed books executed before 1501; in the Armenian case, the first printed book was in 1511 and the term, somewhat incorrectly, refers to early printed books up to 1800.

 

Ingots - A mass of metal cast in a bar or block for easy transport. Used for shaping, remelting, or refining. A method used for commerce in Greece until the 4th century B.C.


 

K

Khach’k’ar - Literally cross stone, monolithic carved stone monuments, unique to Armenia, with a cross as its central motif. Used for commemorative as well as funerary purposes.


 

L

Lectionary - A volume containing readings for the liturgy or mass, Jashotz, in Armenian

Lintel - A horizontal piece across the top of the openings that carries the weight of the structure above it. It is the bar that goes across the top of the canons or is at the top of the page.



Liturgy - A form of public worship. The rites, observances or procedures. At the core of the Christian liturgy are the Mass (the celebration of the Eucharist of Christ’s Sacrifice) and the Divine Office (cycle of daily devotion, usually for monks). A prescribed form or set of forms for public religious worship.

 Arm: Divine Liturgy.

Lunettes - The crescent-like or semicircular vault like structure on the roof of a building. In the Eusebian Letter, portraits of Eusebian and Carpianus were done.

 

M

Magi - Plural of magus, a Zoroastrian priest, thus wise man. The three wise men who paid homage to the newborn Jesus Christ. The Adoration of the Magi is among the earliest specimens of Christian Art.

Manjuscule - Latin for capital or upper case letter.

Manuscript - A handwritten book, roll, tablet or other form of portable means for storing information. Important part in deciding the shape and appearance of the manuscript itself, as well as influencing the script. These were highly decorated, with the first initial letter on the page extremely elaborate. Abbreviated ms., or plural mss. 


Marginalia - Things in the margin, marginal decoration.

Metallurgy - The science that deals with extracting metals from their ores purifying, alloying and creating useful objects with them. The Armenian plateau was one of the first regions to practice metallurgy, using bronze and iron. As a result Armenians have long been master metalworkers and jewelers. Studying their physical and chemical suitability for particular uses. From Greek metallourgos, miner, worker in metals.



Miniature - A small picture painted directly onto the surface of a manuscript. Term applied both to painting in manuscripts and to the related form of independent, small paintings, particularly portraits, that developed in the 16th century. Since the 16th century, the term has been applied more vividly to encompass the small-scale painted illustrations in manuscripts, the result of a mistaken etymology, which associated the word with ‘minute.’ In the medieval period a manuscript miniature was referred to as historia, and contemporaries called portrait miniatures ‘limnings’ (from illumination) or ‘pictures in little.’ Comes from Latin miniare, “to color with red.” Manuscripts were originally decorated with red or minium.



Mint - This is a place where official money is coined. In the early thirteenth century, large quantities of Cilician silver coins were minted and circulated in the worldwide market. Cilicia Armenia was the main center for issuing coins.


Minuscule - Latin for small or lower case letter, or combination of upper and lower case letters.

Mlk'e Gospel - A specific manuscript, usually dated 862 A.D. of the gospels now found at the Armenian Mekhitarist Fathers Monastic Library on the Island of San Lazzaro in Venice, Italy. Some consider it the oldest, complete and illustrated Armenian manuscript.

Monastic - Of, relating to, or characteristic of a monastery. Used often when speaking of monks and nuns. Strictly disciplined or regimented.



Monetary - Of or relating to money, coinage or to the mechanisms by which it is supplied to and circulates in the economy.



Monolithic - Enormous stones that are all of one solid piece. Early Armenian architecture utilized monolithic stones that were perfectly cut and did not require mortar.



Mono-nave - A hall church with a single nave and an apse at one end. Sometimes called the single nave basilica.



Mosaic - Works which consist of glass, marble or other small colored pieces of inlaid stones pieced together to create a pattern.



Motif - Having a central theme or idea such as the Baptism, the Crucifixion, or the Resurrection, where the artist is free to experiment within its realm. 


 

N

Naïve Art - Work of non-professional, self-taught artists who, while lacking orthodox skills, apply themselves to their art in a resolute and independent spirit.



Narthex - A room, commonly at the west end of an Armenian church, used as a meeting room. The covered ambulatory sat at the entrance of the church. The walls were massive and contained few small windows. The narthex acts as a lobby for the church. It is also called a gavit or a zhamatun in Armenian.



Nave - The central aisle of a church running from the narthex or the principle entrance to the chancel or altar. A church may have a single nave or the central nave may be flanked by smaller ones.



Niche Buttressed Square - A variant of the quatrefoil, the niche-buttressed square has four salient apses in the middle of the four walls of a square. A dome is placed centrally over the walls so that these niches buttress the walls against the weight of the dome. Etchmiadzin is a classic example of the niche-buttressed square. 



Niello - A soft, black alloy of sulfur with copper, gold, silver or lead. Used to ornament metal objects. Designs incised on the objects are filled with the alloy, then used with the metal with heat. 



Notrgir - A nearly cursive form of Armenian writing used by scribes in the late medieval period, because it was small and more swiftly executed.

Numismatic - Of or relating the study or collection of coins, tokens and paper money. Cilician Armenian dynasties of the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. Artistry comes into play with the marking of the metal pieces, as an object of monetary exchange. The type of metal used also enhanced the artistry of the object as well as the intricacy of the design. For example, gold pieces would have more value and heighten one’s attention to the details of the design than would perhaps a copper-nickel alloy. The type of design subjects also is a consideration of the artistry behind the metalwork, such as, busts of kings, other royal demarcations or religious or mythical symbolism.


 

O

Obverse - The side of a coin or metal that bears the principal stamp or design, such as the face of the sovereign.



Octafoil -An eight lobed structure in architecture where the lobes (walls) create a supporting base for a dome above them.

Ore - A naturally occurring metallic compound from which the valuable metal can be extracted. 


 

P

Paleo-Christian - "Early Christian" period up to the Arab conquest of 630-640 A.D., through some authorities put the limit at 600 A.D.

Paleography - Study of ancient writing, that is the study of ancient writing hands.

Papyrus - A reed which grows almost exclusively in Egypt used as an early writing surface before it was supplanted by parchment.

Parchment - Animal skin dried and treated to provide a flat sheet for writing, painting, bookbinding and other purposes. Unlike papyrus, parchment was flexible and could be folded repeatedly. The terms parchment and vellum have long been used indiscriminately, but strictly speaking, vellum should refer only to skins made from calves. Parchment is often made of skins of sheep, thus distinguishing it from vellum.



Paten - Dishware made of precious metal for holding the bread at the Eucharistic ceremonies.



Pendentive - An elegant, artistic way of making corners on pillars. A pendentive resembles concave spherical triangles.



Pentecost - A celebrated scene in the Christian manuscripts or sculptures, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles. Celebrated 50 days after Easter.

Piers -Vertical supporting structures, such as a massive vertical pillar, a buttress; a section of wall that is used to support an arch, vault, or other kind of roof.



Pilaster -A flat, rectangular column (often fluted) with a capital and base, attached to or set into a wall as an ornamental motif. It may be decorative or used to buttress the wall.

Pillar - Usually a weight carrying member, such as a column or a pier. Sometimes it is an isolated, freestanding structure used for commemorative purposes.


Pricking - Tiny holes pierced in various ways at the edges of folios or bi-folia to serve as guides for Ruling.

Provenance - History of a manuscripts or by extension, painting's, origin. 

Provincial - Of or characteristic of people from the provinces; not fashionable or sophisticated

Psalter - Book of Psalms.

Pyx - A small round metal receptacle used to carry the Eucharist to the sick, or to hold the wafers of the Eucharist, usually depicting the Last Supper or pairs of Apostles. Also a box in a mint foe deposit of sample coins reserved for testing weight and fitness.

Q

Quatrefoil-A stylistic use of a four-lobed structure, common in ancient Armenian architecture. Also know as a tetraconch, it is a shape in which the walls represent four leaves or petals with a dome on top.

Quire - Another word for gather, a collection of fold pages which are sewn together to form a book.

 

R

Recto - The front or upper side of a folio, indicated by a r or an a or nothing.


Reliquary - A receptacle, such as a coffer or shrine, for keeping or displaying sacred religious relics. Reliquaries were one of the few objects that were made of pure gold and are richly decorated. From Latin reliquiae, sacred relics.



Repository - A place to keep treasures or other precious possessions for safekeeping. Coins and other precious items were kept in a repository, usually located in the church. Museums and tombs can also be repositories.



Repoussé - Shaping or decorating metal by pressing onto a mold and hammering on the reverse side. The final details are then engraved onto the front of the relief.



Rhyton - Ancient drinking horn, made from pottery or metal, and frequently having a base formed to represent a human or animal head, or a mythological creature. The term rhyton comes from the Greek verb meaning “to run through” and depictions of rhyta on Greek vases show that they were used to aerate wine.

Roll - Also called rotulus or volumen, sheets of papyrus pasted together and usually stored in a box.

Ruling - Nearly invisible lines made with a blunt pointed instruct on parchment as a guide for the scribe; in later times ruling with lead or ink was also used.

 

S

Salient Apse - An apse that is visible from outside the church. There is no masonry constructed around the curve to give the appearance of a flat wall, the semicircle is visible from outside.



Sater - Derived from the Greek word “stater,” it referred to gold coins that were used in Armenian markets. The coins weighed 8.60 grams and were stamped with an effigy of Athena and a Victory. It could be exchanged for twenty drachmas.



Scribe - The person, usually in the Armenian case a priest or monk, who copied manuscripts.

Scriptorium - A physical place, usually in a monastery, or at a royal or princely court, where scribes copied books or illustrated texts.



Seismic - Earthshaking; something that has a great effect on other people or styles of art.

Spine - The edge of a manuscript or book that is sewn to keep the pages together.



Squinch - An architectural device used to make a transition from a square to a polygonal or circular base for a dome. It may be composed of lintels, corbels, or arches.
 Squinches may be formed by masonry built out from the angle in corbeled courses, or by filling in the corner with a vise placed diagonally, or by building an arch or a number of corbeled arches diagonally across the corner.

 

T

Tectonic - Relating to construction, building, or architecture.



Tepidarium - The name for the warm washing room in a Roman bathing establishment.



Terra-cotta - A hard semi-fired waterproof ceramic clay used in pottery and in building construction. Used for lightweight support in the domes of Armenian churches.



Tetraconch - Interior apses that join together to form a clover shape, each having a semidomed vaulting. The clover shape is used to support a dome.



Tetradrachmas - An ancient Greek silver coin that was equivalent to four drachmas.



Tooled - Decoration of leather with the use of stamps or tools. Blind tooling refers to the technique when no color or gold is added to heighten the tool design.

T'oros Roslin - The most famous Armenian miniature painter, who worked in Cilician Armenia from 1256 until 1270.

Trefoil - An ornament, symbol, or architectural form having the appearance of a trifoliate leaf.

Triptych - A wax writing tablet consisting of three painted or carved leaves and hinged together. This can be found within the realm of Armenian art. This style was used frequently by ancient Roman craftsmen to depict an image and were often used as an altarpiece. From Greek triptukhos, threefold. 



Tufa - A volcanic stone that was the primary building material of Armenian church construction. Tufa is lightweight, easy to sculpt, and has the properties of becoming harder and more durable with exposure to air and the passage of time. Tufa reflected an abundance of colors including pink, red, orange, and black.
Utilitarian - Exhibiting utility above more impractical reasons. Designed to be useful rather than attractive; knives, scissors, jugs are such objects.


 

U

Utilitarian-Exhibiting utility above decorative reasons. Designed to be useful rather than attractive.

 

V

Vank - Armenian word for monastery.

Vault - An arched roof or covering of masonry construction-- made of brick, stone, or concrete. A barrel (or tunnel) vault is semi-cylindrical in cross-section, made up of a continuous row of arches joined to one another. A groin or cross vault consists of two barrel vaults intersecting each other at right angles. In a cross-barrel vault, the main barrel (tunnel) vault is intersected at right angles with other barrel (tunnel) vaults at regular intervals. A dome is a hemispherical vault. A quadrant vault is a half-barrel (tunnel) vault. In a ribbed vault, there is a framework of ribs or arches under the intersections of the vaulting sections.

Vellum - see Parchment. Fine parchment.

Verso - The underside, or backside, of a folio, indicated by the use of "v".

Vestibule - A passage, hall, or room between the outer door and the inner of a building, a lobby.

Vicissitude - State of being changeable or in flux; the rise and decline of a phenomenon. A change or variation, especially relating to the changes in Armenian art and architecture styles.


 

W

Watermark - Design in paper that can be seen when held up to the light.

 

Z

Zhamatun - A meeting hall. Pairs of large intersecting arches, held up by four sturdy columns hold up the roof of a Zhamatun. (See narthex)

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