The Armenian Cross As Ceramic Art


by Jack Hachigian Ph.D.

Published: Monday January 28, 2013

An Armenian ceramic cross by Jack Hachigian.

As I drove through the countryside, on a visit to the nation of
Armenia, I was struck by the numerous crosses carved into stone. These
large monoliths, called khatch-kars, or “cross-stones,” often made
from Armenia’s native tufa stone, dotted the landscape. They are
magnificent works of art, at once formidable and delicate. The
Armenian tradition of carving crosses into stone is an ancient one,
going at least as far back as 600 AD.

During this visit the land of my ancestors, I stopped by the main
historical library in the capital city of Yerevan. I viewed a
collection of antique manuscripts encased in UV protective glass
cases. These very old works of hand-scribed books were beautifully
illustrated in color and represented another strain of Armenian art:
the illumination. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of these tiny works.

The little paintings glowed with gold and jewel toned paints. It was
awe inspiring to imagine monks in the distant past toiling over these
manuscripts and in the present day to observe monks conducting
research using these same ancient works.

My interest in Biblical illuminations began to take the form of
research. I visited other important collections of these old
manuscripts, one in a monastery in Vienna, Austria, and another in a
monastery on the island of San Lazzaro, just off the coast of Venice,
Italy. I began to examine various texts and original Greek and
Armenian sources.

My research eventually took me to the illuminations from the Trebezond
region of ancient Armenia, now in present day Turkey. A number of
ruins of monasteries and churches still remain in this region, which
is located in the eastern part of the Anatolian peninsula, bordering
on the Black Sea. From the 9th to the 14th Century monks and scribes
in this region toiled to copy Biblical writings, using the unique
Armenian script and alphabet, illuminating their work as they went.

Rooms of scribes worked for years to produce these books. The
illuminations come in different styles and art historians have traced
them to different monks from different regions and at different times.

The movable type printing press had not yet been invented. This would
only happen in 1439, and it is known to have reached Constantinople
one hundred years later. It is unclear when it reached these monks
some distance from Constantinople.

As I perused the Trebezond manuscripts I began to notice many
different cross designs in the colorful paintings. These crosses
caught my attention as cultural art. They were of different shapes and
sizes. It is interesting to note that Armenian crosses are not
crucifixes. The illuminated crosses were not heavy or strongly
religious but rather light and uplifting, engendering a feeling of
spirituality. I was fascinated by their variety, beauty and the scope
of the crosses.

The influence of these two traditions: Khatchkars (“cross-stones”), in
Armenia, and the crosses drawn in illuminations, evoked a strong
desire in me to fuse and extend these two art forms of the Armenian

Keeping with what I saw in the ancient manuscripts, I wanted to create
the intricate crosses in various colors. I decided to continue the
tradition of carving crosses in relief like the “cross-stones”, but
using a modern approach. It quickly became apparent that I could not
achieve my desired goal in stone, nor would metal or wood convey the
experience and feeling that I had when looking at the manuscripts. The
thought of using paint on wood or metal was not appealing, so I began
to examine the possible use of ceramics.

Within a short time I had created a number of ceramic crosses.

Ultimately I created many designs, which were inspired by those I saw
in the Illuminations. Others were abstractions of them, or sprang from
my imagination.

In keeping with my desire to create these crosses in color, I began to
concentrate on glazing, and methods of application. …. I then began
to experiment with glazes to see which would enhance the image
visually. The photos show some of the results.

My works are now found in a number of private collections – in New
York, Washington, London, Armenia, Los Angeles, and Orange County,
California. I was also honored when an artist from Zimbabwe purchased
one of my works.

It is for the reader to judge, but I hope that I have successfully
fused the two traditions I admire into another art form for the
Armenian Cross.

Subsequent to the publication of the article Dr. Hachigian and a
colleague have begun to apply a high technology finish to ceramics for
the first time. This thin film process is expensive. The results,
however are spectacular, giving the crosses a brilliance that is

Dr. Hachigian’s work will be available at the Knights of Vartan
Armenian Art Night on March 2, 2013 at the Newport Beach Country Club,
1600 E. Coast Hwy, Newport Beach. Or, one could make a donation to the
“Friends of the Centennial Monument” on the website
and obtain his work in gratitude for a donation.

This article appeared in its original form/ format in Clay/TECHNICAL
magazine issue #34. Clay/TECHNICAL has graciously allowed its
reprinting in Armenian newspapers because of its interest to that

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