Armenia – under the spell of Mt Ararat

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Gouden kom op kleine holle voet, 2100-1800 v.Chr., afkomstig uit een graf in Vanadzor, © History Museum of Armenia, Jerevan, 2022

After being postponed for two years due to Covid, a stunning international exhibition about the history and culture of Armenia opens in the Drents Museum in Assen on 11 May 2022. ‘Under the spell of Ararat – Treasures from ancient Armenia’ tells a story in which the 5,000 metre high mountain of Ararat – the national symbol of Armenia – plays a central role. Through more than 160 valuable objects – most of them never before seen in the Netherlands – the exhibition takes visitors on a journey through the fascinating cultural heritage of Armenia

The twin peaks of Mt Ararat with Khor Virap in the foreground, 2020, Photo Hans Avontuur

Dazzling objects

Many of the top pieces to be seen in Assen come from the History Museum of Armenia in the capital city of Yerevan. In this stunning exhibition, gold and silver jewellery, drinking vessels, weapons, earthenware pots and bronze images of animals and warriors immerse the visitor in the rich history of this little-known ancient civilisation.

The objects on display cover an immensely long period; from about half a million years ago – when early hunter-gatherers roamed in this area – to the arrival of Christianity during the reign of King Trdat III (287-330 AD). The highpoint of the exhibition comes in the Bronze Age and the time of the Iron Age Urartu Empire (3400-600 BC). The objects from this period were found in rich graves covered with large burial mounds (koergans) and in the fortified settlements of Erebuni and Teishebani. 

Animal images

Particularly striking are the many depictions of animals on earthenware or metal objects on display in the exhibition. The variety of these images is also remarkable: from goats, chamois and red deer to lions, wolves, snakes and birds and even tapirs. Some of these animals played an important part in the beliefs of the Armenians. The red deer, for instance, was a symbol of the sun and the lion represented power and authority. The design of the exhibition – by Perspekt Studio, responsible for the prize-winning design of the earlier exhibition Iran – Cradle of Civilisation in 2018 – gives prominence to these animal images to produce a mythical atmosphere.
 
Noah’s Ark

 Mt Ararat rises up in the middle of the exhibition space. This famous holy mountain is actually in Turkey, not in Armenia, but the mountain and the small republic in the Southern Caucasus are inseparable from each other. One of the highlights of the exhibition is a religious relic containing a wooden fragment from Noah’s Ark, which came to rest on Mt Ararat when the waters subsided after the biblical flood. According to traditional Armenian historical writings, Hayk – founder of the Armenian people – was a descendant of Noah’s son Japhet. The Armenians themselves also call their country Hayastan.

A tradition of unique archaeological collections

In the last 20 years the Drents Museum has built a reputation for bringing to Assen a series of  unique archaeological collections from little-known cultures. These include China (The Terracotta Army of Xi’an, 2008), Georgia (Gold from Georgia, 2010), Guatemala (Maya’s – Rulers of the Rainforest, 2016) and Iran (Iran – Cradle of Civilisation, 2018). This year the spotlight falls on Armenia. The exhibition will be in Assen until 30 October 2022.

Publication

The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication with the same title In de ban van de Ararat – Schatten uit het oude Armenië. Available only in Dutch, the book is edited by curator Wijnand van der Sanden with contributions from Wil Roebroeks, Bleda Düring and Jona Lendering. The book is published by WBOOKS, costs € 29.95, and is available in the museum shop or can be ordered via dutchmuseumgiftshop.nl

Silver beaker, ca. 2200-2000 BC, Karashamb, © History Museum of Armenia,Yerevan, 2022
Necklace with gold and semi-precious stones, ca. 2200 – 2000 BC, Karashamb, © History Museum of Armenia, Yerevan, 2022

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