From Desperate Solidarity to Dispassionate Eye: Shifting French Perspectives on Early Medieval Armenian Art (ca 1894–1929)
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|In the years from the Hamidian massacres of the 1890s through the genocide, French scholars displayed a distinct ambivalence toward the artistic culture of medieval Armenia, with the ultimate resolution of becoming important contributors to a nascent, specialized field of study. This article probes the origins of the French attitude and of the incipient field of study by considering selected scholars’ work. Analyzing the studies of Antoine Meillet, Charles Diehl, and Jurgis Baltrušaitis, as exemplars, highlights phases of the movement’s development, from a progressive rediscovery of the Christian “East”, to a committed Armenophilia, and, finally, to a systematic, disinterested, formalist study of Armenian art as intersection and mediator of forms and ideas. This perspective, viewed against the backdrop of one of the greatest tragedies in modern history, provides a long view and explanation of an evolving scholarly attitude. It uncovers the roots of today’s prevailing attitudes toward Armenian artistic culture.