A new life for the art of Armenian mural painting of the seventh century

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However, since 2013, the situation has started to improve. Two people with special dedication and great professionalism were determined to draw attention to the shrines of the early Christians located in the provinces of Shirak and Aragatsotn in Armenia. One of them is Christine Lamoureux, a Belgian living in Italy and professional mural restorer, and the other the restorative architect Arà Zarian, from a famous Armenian family, also living in Italy.

Their activities in Armenia started in 2012 in Vorotnavank. Then they moved to Shirak where, from 2014 to 2017, they carried out a big project in Lmbatavank. Very impressed by the results obtained in Lmbat, Artsakh officials invited the two restorers to “take care” of the 13th century murals of the Katoghike Church in Dadivank. This work was implemented from 2014 to 2017, and after its very successful completion, a remarkable book was published: K. Matevosyan, A. Avetisyan, A. Zaryan, Ch. Lamoureux, Dadivank: the resurrected wonder (Yerevan, 2018). At the same time, considering that the number of mural paintings available in some monuments of the 7th century in the regions of Shirak and Aragatsotn exceeds the number of those already known or supposed, and realizing the extraordinary importance of this phenomenon for Armenian culture , they decided to continue and expand their activities in this territory.

The members of this wonderful “tandem” complement each other perfectly. Christine seems to be a real magician with different types of brushes, tools and materials. Working with extreme caution and thoroughness, and scrupulously following the rules of her art, she is able to painstakingly restore the magnificent charm of dilapidated frescoes by cleaning them, strengthening them and partially completing them. The cleaning and reinforcement are carried out with the greatest care and the finishes are carried out at a minimum, only in the cases necessary, with the conditions before and after the intervention and permanently documented. The second figure of the team is a true “one man band”, assuming all the countless administrative, organizational and procurement responsibilities while participating in all the important and complex technical actions mentioned above.

It should be noted that Arà Zarian considers it necessary to describe all these actions for each monument in the book, just as meticulously as they were carried out, and to thoroughly document each step with photos. One important clarification must be taken into account in evaluating this laborious, long-drawn-out and determined exercise: all of this was done and is still being done in large part at the expense of these two dedicated individuals.

A telling example of the work done is the aforementioned wall paintings in the Katoghike Church in Dadivank, which, after being cleaned of a thick layer of dirt, dust and soot, and then reinforced by Christine Lamoureux and Arà Zarian, have regained their original shine. . Moreover, thanks to their cleaning, an inscription was discovered revealing the date of execution of the murals: 1297.

In this way, the following churches were studied and then underwent partially or totally the above actions between 2013 and 2017: St Stephen in Lmbat, Karmravor in Ashtarak, St John in Mastara, St Mary and St George / St Sargis in Artik , and, to a lesser extent, the large and small churches of Talin, St George in Garnahovit, St Theodore the Commander in Yeghvard, the six apses church in Aragats, St Stephen in Kosh and St Gregory the Illuminator in Nor Kyanq . As a result, Armenology and the history of art have been enriched by a number of very important discoveries.

  1. It turned out that the interior of all the monuments studied had been completely plastered. They had been plastered not only where the murals were to be executed (mainly the apse of the altar and its conch, the adjacent walls and a few other places like the sides of the west gate in Ashtarak), but also on all the other surfaces that were not to be painted. That is, in the opinion of the authors, there were a few (perhaps many) monuments in the 7th century whose interior surfaces were predominantly white or solid in color, and probably only the Church of Mastara was fully painted inside. It was an amazing and unexpected discovery. Before that, I was convinced that the 7th century monuments (Arutch, Bagaran, Yeghvard, Talin, Lmbat, Mren) in which fragments of plaster (and sometimes paintings) are or were available in different parts outside of the apse of the altar would have been completely painted on the wall, including the hemisphere of the dome (Patrick Donabédian, The Golden Age of Armenian Architecture: 7th Century (Marseille: 2008), 221).
  2. After being cleaned and strengthened through the efforts of the authors, Lmbat’s murals have gained new life, with expansive surfaces and refreshed colors. The activity of restorers was not limited to only wall paintings, but also touched on sculptures. The cross decorating the vault of the western cross of the church in Lmbat has also been stripped of the centuries-old layer of dirt and soot, revealing its original appearance. Finally, new registrations have been opened. Meanwhile, the work carried out in the Karmravor Church in Ashtarak has become a turning point in the history of the monument. In the apse of the altar, the triple image of Deisis was revealed, and below, the theory of the saints of the Fathers of the Church was discovered. The images of the Holy Horsemen, St Sargis and St George, on both sides of the entrance have been significantly refreshed and defined, and the inscriptions of their names have been revealed. Cleaning and examination of the walls showed that the interior of Ashtarak Karmravor Church had undergone a three-stage painting. The first step was implemented first, directly on the stones, which we will talk about later. The second was a decorative layer, without images, painted on the plaster. And finally, in the third stage, the main wall paint was laid on the previous layer.


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