Armenia, having passed a complex and interesting way of cultural development through long centuries of persistent struggle against the powerful states of the West and the East, just in the struggle created its bright, original spiritual and material culture.
Let's start our brief review from culture of Armenian people of pre-Christian period. Remarks by antique authors, diplomatic correspondence of Egyptian pharaohs and local kings, results of archeological excavations (wooden vehicles, bronze weapon, golden jewellery), Armenian legends of later period - it's on this basis that an idea on cultural life of Armenian people of II-I millennia BC appeared. Silent witnesses of mightiness of Urartu - fortresses-cities of Erebuni and Teyshebaini, cuneiform writing, murals of the end VIII century BC - certifying to the beginning of national painting, a great number of deities testifying to rich Urartian mythology reached us.
Huge influence on the further development of the Armenian culture rendered the penetration of Hellenism, widely spread in Armenia in times of Tigran the Great. Later Roman influence was added to the Hellenian.
Literary life experienced huge growth. Here there already existed folk poetry, the invaluable samples of which "father of Armenian historiography" Movses Khorenatsi preserved in his works, mentioning songs and legends, sung by people, ascending to antiquity. The most ancient of the songs, given by him, is a fragment about Vahagn's (Vahagn was a god of war. He had a beard of flame, hair of fire, and his eyes were suns) birth, dating back to the pagan period:
The skies were in labor
And the muscles of the earth,
And the red ripe seas were in labor.
And in labor too the reeds of the shore.
And out of one small red reed, smoke,
And out of the smoke, flames,
And out of the yellow flames of the reed
A blond boy ran,
With flickering fire hair,
And beard of live fire.
And his eyes were two suns.
Armenian culture had been developping by 301 under western (Hellenism and Rome) and eastern (Parthenon) influences, which, only supplemented and enriched bright national culture. Late autumn of pagan epoch turned to flaming spring of Christian culture when in 301 Trdat III proclaimed Christianity the State Religion of Armenia. This step demanded salvation of the problem of rooming a big number of faithful in Christian temples, and basilica ("a Royal House" in Greek) the best way satisfied this need. In VI-VII centuries a new page of the Armenian architecture opened - cross-dome composition of temple architecture appeared. As another bright phenomenon of art culture from Middle Ages to our days Khachkars appear for us.
Concern about the fate of Christianity in Armenia, understanding of conditions of political life brought the scientist, soldier and monk Mesrob Mashtots to the idea of creation of Armenian alphabet and national writing in 405 AD, which was the next contribution to the development of national culture. He received a significant support from Catholicos Sahak Partev and the king Vramshapuh. The first phrase, written by letters of Armenian alphabet, was "To learn wisdom and exhortation, to understand sayings reason", taken from "Book of proverbs of Solomon". Schools with education in native language were soon opened. Soon Sahak and Mesrop realised translation of the Bible, which for its accuracy, briefness and expressiveness has got the name of "the queen of translations". Armenian translations of works mainly from Greek and Syrian, which have not been kept in originals, reached us, namely: "Apology" by Aristides the Athenian, "Chronicle" by Eusevius the Caesarian, works by Ireneus, Ephrem the Syrian, John Chrysostom (Goldmouth) and many others.
Works by Armenian historians from Pavstos Buzand, Lazar Parpetsi to Michael Chamchyan kept the string of time indissoluble, being a valuable source for studying history of Armenia, Byzantine Empire, Georgia, Persia etc. Works in mathematics, medicine, philosophy, geography, astronomy and other sciences by Ananiya Shirakatsi, Grigor Magistros, Mkhitar Heratsi, David Anhaght, Amirdovlat Amasiatsi, served as stimulus for blossom of spiritual life of Armenia. In Middle Ages the code of laws "Lawbook" by Mkhitar Gosh was admitted in Armenia. A code of the same type was composed in XIII in the Kingdom of Kilikia by Smbat Sparapet, who enriched the work by Gosh with codes of the Byzantine and Roman law.
Since V c. medicine has been developing in Armenia. Spacious works on medicine appeared, namely, "The Consolation in Fevers" (1184), which investigates reasons, essence and therapy of all diseases, accompanied with fevers, by doctor, astronomer Mkhitar Heraci; and works by theorist of medicine Amirdovlat Amasiatsi "The Use of Medicine", "Unnecessary for Ignoramus", "Materia Medica". Heratsi and Amirdovlat in their works besides other medical treatments "appointed" gusans' songs in case of feverish diseases on ground of emotional stress with features of oppression of mind. In XVIII century national ashugh (singer) Sayat-Nova (?-1795) in a song says about musical instrument qyamancha: "you give a happy brow to all, with you the sick is well again". Doesn't this speak for advantages of Armenian music, with its rich rhythmic and melody? Since the end of XVII c. the art of Armenian ashughs has developed. Sacred music also developed, growing into fine works for chorus, sharakans. Among musical instruments of early Middle Age there were prototypes for: string ones - tavigh, qnar, pandir, bambir; wind - awagpog, sring; pulsatile - tmbuk. The system of notes - k h a z e s, allowing to strictly fix a melody, was invented in IX century and developed in XI. In the beginning of XIX century a new, elaborated Armenian note system was created and widely used in Armenian music up to the beginning of XX century. It was used in recording national songs by Komitas, a great and tragic phenomenon of Armenian national culture, a person of deep intellectuality, and fundamental knowledge, acquired in Echmiatsin academy, in conservatoire and university of Berlin. Due to the horrors of genocide the composer's spirit was broken, he lost his sense and since 1916 up 1935 has not created any other work. His "The ethnographic collection" (255 records) is a rich anthology of Armenian country songs; his copy books contain more than 3000 melodies; His liturgy "Patarag", despite incompleteness, is an invaluable pearl of national culture. In musical world the following Armenian composers occupy an honorable place: A.Spendiaryan - the founder of national symphonic music, A.Khachaturyan - ballets «Gayane», «Spartak», A. Tigranyan - opera «Anush», Chukhajyan - the first Armenian opera «Arshak II», etc.
In the "book" on national culture painting appears as a separate poem. Murals of Urartian period have already been mentioned above. As to the mural of Middle Ages, its feature was in dabbing a thin layer of couch of a mix of daubing and sand on smooth, finely hatched ashlar. The fragility of this method explains almost full loss of large panels of mural in temples. Though some fragments can still be seen in the monastery of Lmbat (Christ's legs, the tail of clothes with bodies of flame at the background, four-winged Seraphs with tragic expression and compressed lips); in the monastery of Tatev (Saints; Prophets, holding scrolls with Armenian text; scenes of Christmas, Judgement Day).
The creative work of painters' of VI c. has given life to wonderful samples of a miniature. Almost since the times of creation of Armenian alphabet for safety and decoration of manuscripts gold and silver bindings were produced (the most probable epoch of use of gold and silver by inhabitants of the Armenian Plateau - II millennium AD. Mines gold and silver of the Armenian mountains are mentioned in work by Strabon and Prokopius). Illustrated hand-written Bibles, the Gospels, Psalters of those times are kept to this day in various collections in Yerevan, USA, the British museum, national library of Paris, Armenian Catholic monastery on the island of St. Lazarus in Venice. As a material for manuscripts of early period Parchment was used. Later paper appeared. There existed the prototype of fountain pen, the feather of which received ink from a hollow ball fixed on the stem. Manuscripts, kept for centuries in damp rooms of monasteries, in the most unexpected places, have kept original brightness and freshness due to enduring paints.
The following basic Armenian miniature schools (each having its oustanding painters) are distinguished: Kilikian (Toros Roslin), Gladzor (Avag), Tatev (Grigor Tatevatsi, philosopher, public artist and figure), Vaspourakan (Minas), Crimean, Artsakh-Utikyan. We should also mention Naghash Hovnatan, with whose name the murals of Echmiadzin cathedral are connected, and with school of Hovnatan family - the origin of pictures XVII-XVIII c., decorating Echmiadzin.
The end of XIX c. - the beginning of XX c. is the period of creative work of such great artists, as: G.Bashindzhagjan - the landscape-painter whose works are penetrated by poetic feeling and are distinguished by romanticism and elation.
V. Surenjants - the founder of historical genre of Armenian painting. "The Trampled Relic" - a response to slaughter of Armenians in Turkey, barbarous destruction of people and his culture. Executed in the scale of cold silver tones, the cloth represents an interior of the crushed church - the plundered ark of church utensils, a killed monk, torn books.
H. Ayvazovsky - the great marine painter, whose creative works belongs to the world culture. Dreaminess, the beauty of color, skill to show the transparency of water, its mighty force, amazing spontaneity - that's the secret of charm of the artist's works. Besides sea subjects the master also represented Ararat and Ararat valley, Lake Sevan, portraits, bible themes, etc.
M. Saryan - the most significant figure in the Armenian fine arts of XX c., creator of portraits, still-lifes, landscapes, decorative panel, illustrative graphics, with the name of whom the foundation of modern national art school is connected.
Let's turn now our eyes to one of the most ancient crafts, mastered by Armenians - carpet loom. Cultivation of sheep, manufacture of woolen strings and fabrics, their dyeing are marked by many historians of ancient times.. Here are some of known Armenian dyes: red "vordan karmir", received from a worm cochineal, widespread in Ararat valley; green - from ochra; dark blue, lajvard, is described by Pliny the Elder as "armenium", etc. The most ancient ornaments, which don't have analogues in art of carpet producing are "vishapagorg" (dragon carpet). Later appear carpets with life tree, carpets with eagles, and, at last, with cross - the main ornament of Middle Ages of Armenia. Armenian carpets were always highly appreciated Walls and floors of a palace of the Arabian caliphs were covered with the Armenian carpets, the favourite wife of caliph Garun Ol' Rashid sat on "an Armenian carpet", all other wives - on "Armenian pillows". Djotto and Karavadjo, Rubens and Rembrandt wrote interiors with Armenian carpets.