Arts of Armenia-Vocabulary

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

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.



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 build 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. 

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. (pictured)



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

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

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

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

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.

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

Codex - A manuscript with pages made of folded sheets. It replaced the scroll, which was different in that it was rolled paper. 

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, finishing touch.

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.”



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.

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



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.

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 (see picture).
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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).

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.



Garrison - A military post or station. A fortress.

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

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).



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. Hripsime, 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.



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.

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.



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.



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.

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.



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.

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. 

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 - Term applied both to painting in manuscripts and to the related form of independent, small paintings, particularly portraits, that developed in the 16th century. Originally referred to publication; since the 16th century, however, 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 contempories 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.

Monastic - Of or relating to monasteries or monks who were isolated monasteries, nuns, etc.

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.

Mononave - 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. 



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. 

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.



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. 



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.

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.

Provincial - Of or characteristic of people from the provinces; not fashionable or sophisticated Quatrefoil -A stylistic use of a four lobed structure, common in ancient Armenian architecture. Also known as a tetraconch, it is a shape in which the walls represent four leaves or petals with a dome on top.

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.



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.



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.

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.

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.



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.

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.



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.

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.



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