Reverent Beauty: The Met’s Armenia Show Is One for the Ages


Oct. 25, 2018


The Metropolitan Museum of Art gives the blockbuster treatment to Armenia, the oldest Christian country in the world.

A four-sided stela commemorating Armenia’s conversion to Christianity in the fourth century opens the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition, “Armenia!”

They were mostly young people who came out in the streets of Armenia this past spring, waving balloons of red, orange and blue. They were fed up with their ineffectual government, and on their smartphones they watched the progress of an opposition leader, the former journalist Nikol Pashinyan, as he walked in protest across central Armenia. When he arrived in Yerevan, the capital of this former Soviet republic, the crowds sang, shouted and swore to go on strike. Less than six weeks later, Mr. Pashinyan was named interim prime minister of Armenia, ushered into office on the shoulders of the extraordinary, nonviolent “velvet revolution.”

Armenia is a country with so much history it can overwhelm you. This spring we learned its future might be as eventful as its past, which makes it a timely moment for “Armenia!,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s eye-opening appraisal of the art, manuscripts, textiles and religious artifacts of a nation that is still adding surprising chapters to its dramatic history.

Mr. Pashinyan attended the opening last month. There was no sign, alas, of Kim Kardashian, our most famous Armenian-American, but His Holiness Karekin II, the catholicos (or supreme patriarch) of the Armenian church, was also spotted in the galleries; the country was the first to make Christianity its official religion, and this exhibition, packed with weighty stone crosses and richly illuminated gospels, is a testament to the centrality of the church to Armenian cultural identity. No museum has ever mounted such a large exhibition of Armenian art, and most of the 140 objects here come from museum collections and churches in Armenia and rarely travel.


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