“Sacred Art from the Armenian Orthodox Churches of Istanbul”
A Lecture by Dr. Ronald Marchese
Archaeological Institute of America
Co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Classical Studies program and the New Orleans Society of the Archaeological Institute of America
The history of a people can be documented by the physical objects they produce and use in daily life and ritual. Things are important, if not essential, items of human material culture. As such they embody social values, define moral and ethical principles as well as illustrate artistic achievement. An examination of the artisanship employed in manufacture of things is also important in understanding the material culture of a people. The collection of objects in the Armenian Orthodox churches of Istanbul support both views - the interconnection between material culture, artisanship, and communal belief. Featuring high levels of artistic and technical sophistication, objects of faith were commissioned by church members as personal and communal expressions glorifying God.
Making objects for the Church was a pious act and each item produced and donated was considered a personal statement of faith. Such objects transcended the world of physical matter. Family prestige and social standing in the community were also enriched by the donation of precious objects. Contributions from one’s own hand and of oneself instilled within the maker a sense of personal fulfillment and involvement in the spiritual life of the community, a deep attachment to Armenian secular and religious values, and finally adherence to Christian beliefs in an otherwise Muslim world. In this manner the objects produced by the community became symbols of faith and dedication to Christian religious culture.
Like many collections, the Armenian Orthodox Church treasuries in Istanbul contain objects that were never meant to be displayed in a museum or appear in a book. Their primary purpose was to serve, honor, and glorify God. Acquired over many centuries, such objects were more than metal, stone, wood, and definitely more than complicated composition and elaborate iconography. They were a physical testament to religious belief that symbolized the intense spiritual convictions of the lay community.
The objects under study – those that make up a corpus of previously unstudied and unknown artifacts - are a physical reminder and tribute to a people who tenaciously maintained a national identity through the objects they produced, donated, and used in the celebration of their faith. They defined a unique style of religious art, the “Constantinople Style” that reflected the opulence and grandeur of a city many Armenians came to love as their own. Through their labor the city and the Church prospered and, in time, the community became one of the most important ethnic groups in Istanbul.
Dr. Ronald Marchese is Professor of Ancient History & Archaeology in the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Minnesota/Duluth. He receieved his BA in Art History from California State University at Fresno and his PhD in History from New York University. He has excavated in Greece at Plataiai and at numerous sites in Russia, Turkey and Israel.
His most recent book, ."Splendor and Pageantry: Textile Treasures from the Armenian Orthodox Churches of Istanbul was selected best among fifteen different entries by the Textile Society of America. This text is the recipient of the annual R. L. Shep Ethnic Textiles Book Award, an award that recognizes the "the best book of the year in the field of ethnic textiles.
Authored with Marlene Breu and the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, and photographed by Murat OÄŸurlu, the book represents ten years of meticulous research, photographing and design work prior to its publication in 2011.
Over 170 beautiful photographs illustrate the selection of artifacts that make up the textile treasury of the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul, exquisite pieces dating from the past three hundred years that have been executed in embroidery, appliqué, techniques of textile printing, and painting. Women artisans not only used their incredible needlework techniques to create these breathtakingly beautiful pieces of textile art, they also infused their needlework with their own visions and artistic sense, creating a synthesis of symbolic forms reflecting Anatolia and a rich artistic past that must certainly blend Anatolian, Byzantine, Caucasian, Turkic, Mongolian and Ottoman styles.
The 397 page book also discusses the iconographies of the objects, and describes their techniques of production. The reference catalog is highly useful as a reference for scholars, while the translations of the inscriptions on the pieces open a window to all readers onto the personal lives of the people who contracted and gifted these items to the Church.