I was struck by this book immediately, if only because I barely managed to hold it in my hands. The four large-format volumes weigh something like 8 kilograms, published on coated paper and filled with compact text interspersed with many photographs, perspective views, plans, diagrams and substantial footnotes. Everything is as it should be for a dissertation; the book is the publication of the text of Armen Kazaryan's doctoral dissertation, defended at the Institute of Art History in 2007.
However, it is impossible to immediately recall doctoral dissertations on the history of medieval architecture, which, having been published, would have looked like this. In search of analogies, only Nikolai Voronin's book about
architecture of North-Eastern Russia, published in the early 1960s: there you can also find everything (well, almost everything) about the Vladimir-Suzdal churches, this is a complete, detailed and reliable book, which, as historians say, “covers” one whole period of exceptional importance. Since then, they have written about the Vladimir-Suzdal architecture, but Voronin's book still rises above everything written before and after, like a rock or even a mountain.
Kazaryan's book is about the same: it is a meticulous and versatile study, it is very detailed, from and to, describes an exceptional phenomenon - the medieval architecture of Transcaucasia of the heyday, VII century. However, the time of formation - the 5th and 6th centuries is considered no less carefully here. The book is dedicated to the architecture of three countries: Armenia, Eastern Georgia and Caucasian Albania. This architecture, on the one hand, is well known - everyone knows Echmiadzin, and on the other hand, it has not been studied enough. It, as Armen Ghazaryan shows in detail and vividly in his historiographical sketch, for a long time dropped out of the circle of studies of Byzantine architecture and was considered separately. That is why the methodology of its study for a long time suffered from the same disease of "autochthonousness" as the historiography of Russian medieval architecture. In other words, many historians have traced the most interesting techniques and features to folk, primarily wooden, architecture. For example, historians of Russian architecture have long believed that stone hipped-roof temples originated from wooden tents. And historians of the architecture of Transcaucasia, again, for example, believed that the domes of stone temples of Armenian churches originated from false wooden domes in residential buildings, not paying special attention to the fact that the dome was used in the Roman world long before that.
The isolation of autochthonous theories, as well as the not too much attention of Byzantine historians, turned Armenian architecture in the minds of many people into a kind of exotic: a bright phenomenon that came from nowhere and disappeared from nowhere, which is completely unfair. Because, as Armen Ghazaryan explains, there is almost nothing left of the Byzantine architecture of the 7th century. We do not know anything about it, except that in the empire this is a period of iconoclasm, but from the point of view of art and architecture, this period for Byzantium is a gap. The gap that the architecture of the Transcaucasian countries successfully fills, which, although they were ecclesiastically and politically independent from Constantinople, although they formed their own, unlike anything else, school, nevertheless, in a broad sense, are included (like later ancient Russian architecture) in the area of Byzantine influence.
In addition, the monuments of Transcaucasia are very interesting in themselves. The flourishing period coincides with the formation of the centric cross-domed type of the temple (which, we note in parentheses, after the VIII century, became firmly established in Byzantium and, among other things, became the basis for Russian churches, as well as for the search for architects of the Italian Renaissance).In the Transcaucasian VII century, this typology develops rapidly and in a variety of ways: many forms appear here, from the usual cube with apses to various octa and tetraconchs, including temples with a petal plan inscribed in a large rotunda. Here you can also find many interesting constructive solutions that arise at the junction of the Eastern Roman and Iranian cultures; it is a vibrant and dynamic architecture of becoming, passionate about seeking, not reproducing.
Armen Ghazaryan examines the architecture of Transcaucasia very broadly: the book contains both the Pantheon and Hagia Sophia, - he places, overcoming the above-mentioned problems of autochthonous theories, in the context of the East and the Mediterranean, as well as in the context of modern Russian, Armenian and Western historiography, in the historical, ecclesiastical and cultural contexts. He builds a periodization under the rule of Catholicos, heads of the Armenian Church and the main customers, paints portraits of their personality through buildings, as Erwin Panovsky painted a portrait of Abbot Suggeria through the history of San Denis. With all this, it is striking that none of the additions prevails, the focus remains on architecture, carefully examined from various angles and from a very sober, clear point of view. Some kind of healthy, not too brightly illuminated by oblique rays of any one, too bright theory. Architecture is not subject to theory, it is manifested, and this is especially interesting. She, which may be surprising, and yet the fact reciprocates, allows herself to be shown. The author writes clearly about constructions and typology, about imagery - vividly, and never drawn out, despite the large volume of text. This approach was typical for the books of the teacher of Armen Kazaryan Alexei Komech, who studied the architecture of Kievan Rus, and somehow it is very pleasant to understand that the Komech school is alive and developing.
In addition, Kazaryan's book is also a catalog of all the monuments of the period, which makes it a good textbook and manual. The author managed to solve a problem that was discussed by researchers of the 1990s rather hotly: how to write about architecture, talking about problems or talking about monuments? In the first case, the monuments are lost, it is difficult to find any necessary facts in the book, in the second, theoretical questions fade into the background. In this case, one must think, the combination of the two approaches worked: the author first writes in detail about the problems of each period, then in catalog form, point by point (typology, function, history, bibliography, dating, decoration, preservation, etc.) in detail describes each monument. All this is accompanied by a historical sketch, photographs of landscapes of different areas, historical maps with the borders of states and spheres of influence for different periods.
In conclusion, it must be said that the study, of course, is important for the Moscow school of studying the history of architecture, the fruit of which it is definitely a fruit, and for the study of the architecture of Armenia, and in the international context - it is difficult for me to judge objectively here, but apparently - yes, this book will be important for the historiography of Byzantine architecture. On the one hand, it is logical, but on the other, it is absolutely amazing that it has appeared now. Now, when the minister almost dispersed the Institute of Art History, deciding that it was of little practical use. When historians live it is not clear what and when we remember the collections and monographs of the mid-1990s, finger-thick, printed with a simple apparatus on breakable gray paper. Hmm … now that the Strelka Institute is releasing a translation of Rem Koolhaas's 30-year-old book, and it seems to everyone a terribly progressive step forward. And when few people in Moscow really know what is happening in Armenia and how they live there.
Well-being emanates from this book.Solid, thorough and, most importantly, fundamental (that is, for the reasons of some people, useless, since it cannot be smeared on bread) research, completely new, and not a translation or reprint. Seems published somewhere not here. Otherworldly. And although the author, by his own admission, had been looking for money for the publication for more than three years, it seemed to be worth it.
Below, with the consent of the author, we publish the text of the preface to the book, written by the doctor of art history Sharif Shukurov:
“The fundamental work of Doctor of Sciences A.Yu. Kazaryan evokes not only respect, but also admiration. In our time, the reduction of the prestige of science, it is almost impossible to imagine that a four-volume publication on the architecture of the Transcaucasus - Armenia, Georgia, Caucasian Albania - appears in a fairly short period of time. From now on we have at our disposal a lengthy encyclopedic collection on the history of architecture of the Christian Transcaucasia within the framework of the 7th century. - the era of the highest prosperity. Armenian architecture, which performs the functions of the basic, fundamental for the Transcaucasus, has a powerful historiography in domestic and Western science. As the title of the book suggests, it is devoted to the church architecture of the three countries of the Transcaucasus, which is especially valuable in the era of the separation of the states of the region. Before A.Yu. Kazaryan, similar, but not so full-fledged conclusions were made by N.Ya. Marr and J. Strzhigovsky.
It is not enough to say that the book by A.Yu. Kazaryan is innovative, she, in addition to solving current problems on various problems, is also directed against the prevailing stereotypes in the field of Transcaucasian architecture. This became possible, among other things, due to the innovative nature of the author's thinking, this is a method of a certain ordering of thought. There is no innovation without appropriate thinking. In order to introduce one's word into the thick of thoughts of other researchers of the architecture of the Transcaucasus, one needs not only knowledge of historiography, of course, of the monuments themselves, but also a subtle methodological and theoretical feeling. For A.Yu. Kazaryan's innovation played the role of one of the horizons of perception not only of architecture, but of the entire cultural layer that allows this architecture to take place.
The beginning of the development of religious architecture on the territory of the Transcaucasus falls on the IV-V centuries, and from the VII century. its heyday is associated. It was at this time that one of the main Events for the entire architecture of Transcaucasia falls - most of the central-domed compositions appear and their dominance begins. The quantity and quality of religious architecture increases dramatically, which is immediately reflected in the semantic value of this architecture as an Event of "long duration" (longe durée) and significant spatial coverage. For this Event was a significant factor not only for Transcaucasia, but even in relation to Byzantium and Iran at that time. Let us not forget to note that it was at this time that one of the constituent features of this Event was the appearance of that iconography of the architecture of the Transcaucasus, which passed through all subsequent centuries of its existence. Can there be any doubts about the logic of A.Yu. Kazaryan, who devoted so much effort to this architectural event?
The development of the author's monumental story also includes the activities of the Catholicos Komitas Akhtsetsi in the field of the transformation of Armenian architecture. Consequently, the significant figure of Komitas is an integral part of the concept of an architectural Event. It is Komitas who has the honor in developing the iconography of the central domed architecture of Armenia. A semantically loaded architectural Event cannot take place without the participation of a person, an individual, and therefore, we can judge the integral and conceptual nature of Komitas' personality not only for the formation of new architecture, but also for Armenian hymnography and literature.
Komitas stylistically and iconographically transformed the integrity of the Armenian temple, demonstrating this in a voluminous way through the examples of the construction of the Church of St. Hripsime using the achievements of St. Sophia of Constantinople and the reconstruction of the Cathedral of Echmiadzin. The pages devoted to the development of Komitas' ideas in Armenian architecture are among the brightest in the book by A.Yu. Kazaryan. One cannot fail to mention one more Event in the history of Armenian architecture associated with the name of Catholicos Nerses Taetsi, whom his contemporaries called the Builder. The name of Catholicos Nerses is associated with the construction of the magnificent Zvartnots and another renewal of the style of Armenian architecture. Similarly, as a result of a creative act initiated by the ruler of Armenia Grigor Mamikonyan, N.Ya. Marra Cathedral in Aruch. He, according to the author, was the ancestor of the “domed hall” architectural type. The researcher also puts forward a fundamental concept of separation of the provincial tradition from the "classical". This allows us to connect the origin of the main types of churches in the 7th century. not with local, simple and sometimes cobblestone structures, but with the phenomena and images of the world "classics".
The desire of the author of the book to systematize his research is understandable. For example, the identification of architectural typology gives his book additional solidity and poignancy. The desire of A.Yu. Kazaryan's ordering of the material under consideration does not allow him to remain within the boundaries of the Transcaucasian architectural tradition. When the book talks about ribs in the temple of Hripsime in Vagharshapat, the author immediately and justly recalls the ribs of the Sassanian and early Seljuk times. The conclusions of the author are not so important, much more significant is his desire to consider this or that phenomenon in connection with the surrounding architectural environment, be it Byzantium or Iran.
The latter circumstance makes the research of A.Yu. Kazaryan's ethnically not sharpened, I would say, transcultural and summing up the scientific tradition of studying the architecture of Armenia, Georgia, Caucasian Albania.
Of course, the work of A.Yu. Kazaryan is highly relevant against the background of a faded interest in architecture among Russian specialists. Only a few, including our researcher, continue scrupulous work on the past of the monuments, which to this day awaken the imagination of even those who are not familiar with the basics of architecture."
Doctor of Arts, Head of the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies
Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences
In response to readers' requests, we inform you that for now this book can be purchased from the author. Four volumes cost 4,000 rubles.