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Episode 3: Treasures in Heaven: Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts with Prof. Christina Maranci and Erin Piñon

For our September podcast, we were joined by Professor Christina Maranci (Tufts University) and Erin Piñon (doctoral candidate, Princeton University), for a discussion of Treasures in Heaven: Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts, ed. Thomas Mathews and Roger Wieck, published in 1994 by New York and Princeton.

Anna Stavrakopoulou: Welcome to the third episode of the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Podcast Series. I am Anna Stavrakopoulou, the Program Director in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks.

We are joined today by Christina Maranci— 

Christina Maranci: I'm Christina Maranci. It's Maranci, Maranchi, Marange, however, you want to pronounce it.

Anna Stavrakopoulou: and Erin Piñon.

Erin Piñon: I'm Erin Piñon. I'm a graduate student in Princeton's Department of Art and Archaeology, studying late Armenian painting. 

Anna Stavrakopoulou: Christina Maranci is the Arthur H. Dadian and Ara T. Oztemel Chair of Armenian art and architectural history at Tufts University. She is the author of three books and over 90 articles and essays on medieval Armenian art and architecture, including most recently an introduction to Armenian art, published by Oxford University Press in 2018. Maranci has worked on issues of cultural heritage for over a decade, with a focus on the at-risk medieval Armenian churches and monasteries in what is now Eastern Turkey.

Her interlocutor, Erin Piñon, is a doctoral candidate in Princeton University’s Department of Art and Archaeology. Her dissertation studies Ottoman-Armenian painting in 17th-century Istanbul. Her forthcoming article, “Lock, Stock and Barrel: Story, Song, and Image in Early Modern Vaspurakan,” considers the role para-liturgical, illuminated manuscripts played in the transmission of Armenian historical imagination in the early modern period. 

They will be discussing Treasures in Heaven: Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts, edited by Thomas Mathews and Roger Wieck, published in 1994 by New York and Princeton.

They’ll answer questions like how did the exhibition Treasures of Heaven, its catalogue, the symposium and the subsequent volume change the scene of Armenian studies in Anglophone academia, what was it like to attend the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in 1994, what is the premier site of Armenian painting, and last, how has the relationship between Byzantine and Armenian Studies evolved over the years, from the 1990s to 2020 and beyond? 

Anna: I would like to ask Christina why you have selected Treasures in Heaven: Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts, edited by Thomas Mathews and published in 1994. Why did you select this book, and how has it inspired your work?

Christina: Thank you so much. Thank you, Anna, and thank you for this invitation to talk about a book that made a big impact, particularly with one of my favorite graduate students, Erin Piñon. Why Treasures in Heaven? This book has importance for me personally and also for the field in general. Treasures in Heaven, the exhibition and the exhibition catalog, and the associated conference, all came out in the early ’90s, early-middle ’90s. That was when there was a concentration of Armenologists in New York City and in the United States that really laid the groundwork for the field in many ways as it has developed in Anglophone circles.

I encountered the book as a graduate student, and then I started using it to teach with. Erin is one of my former students with whom I used it. Anyway, it represents a lot of important work, and also it was important to me as a young scholar.

Anna: Thank you very much. Did you select any specific chapters you would like to discuss during this brief for podcast of ours today?

Christina: I’m going to say, we’re going to talk about it all. We’re going to talk about the catalog. We’re going to talk about—

Erin: Yes, we’re going to cover everything.

Christina: We’re going to cover everything. When we’re done, even though it’s brief, you’re going to know everything. Or we’ll probably jump around. We’re going big or we’re going home.

Erin: I’ll just follow up on what Christina said, and thank you for your kind words, Christina, and thank you for the invitation to talk today. This also had a huge impact on me. Like Christina said, she taught me and exposed me to the rich world of Armenian manuscript painting, which I’m writing my dissertation on today, and will continue to work on for a very long time.

This was a very formative text for me in all its component parts, not just as an exhibition catalog, but as this collection of conference proceedings that I was excited as I was rereading some of this material because, I have scans that Christina uploaded to Blackboard or whatever platform we were using in 2009, perhaps, when I first read some of these essays. Of course, I have the texts with me here today as books, and just even the experience of rereading this took me back a decade, which was fantastic. These are works that I still read every year, every semester, and revisit constantly because some of the threads that were drawn are still very relevant today.

Anna: Wonderful. I was wondering, since I guess the scholarship on Armenian art has been influenced by the scholarship on Byzantine studies—on a Byzantine art, actually. What is that you feel that the book has—offers—that is precious and invaluable for Byzantine studies as well? This is a big question, and you can discuss it in whichever way you want.

Christina: That’s a great question. It actually allows me to back up a little bit because really the first person to do the study of Armenian manuscript art in the United States was Sirarpie Der Nersessian. Of course, she trained as much as a Byzantinist as an Armenologist, and among Byzantinists, and of course, is someone near and dear to Dumbarton Oaks. Sirarpie Der Nersessian was that sort of what I would see as a first generation of our Armenian art historians or art historians of Armenia in the United States and produced this wonderful rich English language literature for us all to look at. She was, again, closely connected to things Byzantine.

Working on everything from an Armenian treatise on iconoclasts to artistic historical relations between the 7th-century Etchmiadzin Gospels and Byzantine manuscripts or Bagratid illuminations and its relation to Byzantine art. She laid the groundwork for those questions, and then they were taken up by people like Tom Mathews and Helen Evans and Annemarie Weyl Carr. I think that what’s wonderful about this work in the 1990s, is that, and that includes East of Byzantium, the Dumbarton Oaks symposium as well, which is part of this collection of books. It's part of that moment in American Armenian studies.

The point was that after that, after Sirarpie, you have people who are asking questions about those relations between Armenia and Byzantine, like Tom Mathews, as I mentioned, or Annemarie Weyl Carr and asking them and deepening those questions, asking new questions, but it goes back to Sirarpie, I think, in many ways.

Now, those questions are getting more complex. I guess what I wanted to say was that, what was wonderful about the ’90s is that it was a moment when people were studying Armenian art for its own sake within its own context. That was also the goal of the East of Byzantium symposium. When you do that, you realize the amazing connections with Byzantine culture, with Byzantine history, with Byzantine art, but it’s done in a deeper, richer way because now you understand what Armenia and what Armenian art is on its own terms. It’s not just a formal resemblance, is, “Oh, this drapery looks Byzantine.” There’s something more that you can say because you understand what, let’s say, Bagratid political motives were.

I think that Byzantinists, it would be recommended for them to look at the Treasures in Heaven series because of the ways it complicates some of the questions that Sirarpie Der Nersessian once asked about Byzantine Armenian relations, and so much more beyond Byzantium.

Erin: I have to say that the volume, at least the catalog opens with this meditation on how to describe Armenian art from the point of the Armenians. All these manuscripts are well contextualized within their liturgical settings. Even Tom Mathews writes that these should be described from an Armenian point of view and conforming to the evolution of the Armenian people. I think just as the exhibition contextualizes and presents these works in that vein, they also look out to what is called outsider influence and mediates these signs of dependence on other artistic traditions.

Anna: Wonderful.

Christina: Erin, I’m so curious to know about your reactions to Treasures in Heaven and associated books now, because when I taught this material to you many, many years ago, it was a different world. We’re talking about the early 2000s, and it’s 2020 now, which is amazing to think about. So much has happened in art history, so much has happened in Armenian art and Byzantine art and medieval art, more generally. I think that we can read these essays and appreciate them, but I think, too, lots of things have changed.

I wonder for you as a younger scholar and emerging scholar, how you might comment on these essays, picking anything you wanted, just your reactions.

Erin: Great. I do feel, in a way, very emotional revisiting Treasures in Heaven because, like I said at our opening, this is where it all started for me. As you introduced to the listeners, I studied with you, studied it under you at Tufts, where the first images of Armenian painting, Armenian architecture, ivory, everything was done in your classroom, and I still have the PowerPoints to prove it, all backed up on many hard drives. This text, in many ways today—I guess when I started, this was part of a corpus in English that I could access with a rich bibliography and really we should mention that this exhibition only covered 88 illuminated manuscripts in North America. This is an incredibly small corpus of the 30,000 plus existing surviving Armenian manuscripts today, but incredibly, incredibly diverse across genre, across time period, across style. Really when we were talking about what text to discuss today, it was a no brainer because this really does include so much.

I have to say that the impact was long lasting because, like I said, I’m still studying Armenian painting today, but now when I read this text and the individual essays, I look at it as a jumping off point, and I ask different questions of what I’m reading, because now there is an established corpus. I think of this as being one major bookend of American exhibition history of Armenian art. Of course, two years ago, Helen Evans, who also participated in this volume, organized and exhibited a major show of Armenian art in the United States at the Metropolitan. I like to think of those as these two exhibits and their texts as sisters to this long line study of Armenian painting or of Armenian art period.

When I was reading some of these, or rereading, I should say, I saw certain lines that stood out to me at every stage in my academic career. Not just as an undergrad, but as a master's student. In the time between my master's and my PhD, when I was teaching this material at American University of Armenia, and I assigned some of these pieces, which was, again, very important for me to carry that line in Yerevan. Some things that have stood out to me are just these calls. There are areas that are open for research, particularly in both the exhibition catalog and the essay volume.

Alice Taylor’s work on 13th-, 14th-, 15th-century Vaspurakan, Lake Van area, illumination, has totally impacted my study. The first five years of graduate work have been devoted to that, and then now my dissertation is mostly launched from lines in Sylvie Merian and Helen Evans, late Armenian painting in the diaspora. I have covered and answered a lot of questions for myself in my own work that were posed in some of these essays, and there's still so much work to be done.

Christina: Thank you. That’s wonderful. I find that very moving, and you remind me, Erin, of when I, as a hapless Princeton graduate student myself, took the train to New York to the symposium.

Erin: This is my question for you. I’d love to know your experience of viewing the exhibit and seeing the symposium and having this atmosphere around you.

Christina: I think now I’m an old lady, but I look back and I think I wish I knew what I know now, because I would have looked at it all in a different way. I was starstruck. I remember going to the symposium seeing Helen Evans, James Russell, Nina Garsoïan, Krikoor Maksoudian, John, Sylvie. So many people, Alice, Annemarie, and thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is what can be done.” It just seemed amazing to me. Also, to remember that in the ’90s, graduate students, there wasn’t so much of conference-going, let alone conference-presenting the graduate students were doing. I was really starstruck, and I was amazed at the exhibition.

It was a bit of a haze for me, now I look back. I had just started at Princeton. It was ’94. I think it was ’94 that the exhibition happened if I’m not wrong. I remember being very young and just being overwhelmed. It took me a long time because my thesis was on architecture, but really it was in my first few years of teaching that I started really to use it. What I found so amazing about the exhibition catalog, and then the associated collected papers, was how teachable they were. It was so—To this day, I use Tom Mathews’s essay on the Etchmiadzin Gospels, and what he says about how the apocryphal literary tradition may have informed the iconography of the imagery.

As Erin knows, I make my students act out the Armenian version of the infancy gospels. One person plays Gabriel, the other person plays the Virgin. I think there’s a narrator too. It brings this material to life. To me, ultimately, it’s the social questions that were asked in the catalog. For example, why should we show the wedding at Cana the way we do? What’s the relationship between contemporary costume and thinking about Vaspurakan miniature traditions, why should the virgin look so skeptical about what Gabriel is telling her about, “You will bear the Christ child,” and how we can relate that to contemporary literary tradition.

That’s what the scholarship from that period did for me. It brought these images to life in a way that went beyond and went along with, but beyond iconography and style, which I dearly love. I love art history, the bread and butter of it. For me, those essays ask the questions about who, why, how, how did it, why does it look the way it does, and how did it happen that way?

Erin: Which are of course things that I take for granted as a graduate student today. I feel with this as a foundation and so many other pieces outside of this, I’ve never been stopped from asking wild questions about the way something looks or how a certain type of iconography entered a certain type of genre. This exhibition and its essays really laid a groundwork for asking questions about developments outside of a canon in that this developed a canon for us.

Christina: Erin, I wanted to ask a follow up question to you because your dissertation, which is so important fascinating on the Yaysmawurk’ work, which is a, how would you describe, I’m going to let you do because you’re the specialist.

Erin: I think the most comparable manuscript tradition would be either a Synaxarion or a Menologion—a collection of saints’ lives organized by date. Of course, notably in the Armenian tradition versus the Byzantine tradition, it’s one giant manuscript. Things are not separated first half of the year, second half of the year, like Basil’s. Basil II Menologion. This is one massive manuscript.

Christina: This actually brings me to my question, because you may not even be aware of it, but I can see it because of the long view, but you are knowledge of classical Armenia, and your close engagement with the philology of the Armenian tradition, of liturgy has changed. It means that you’re working in a way that's a little bit different from that, I think the earlier generation of art historians in that you are as immersed in the texts and the textual traditions as you are in the image. Could you talk a little bit about that?

What I loved about Treasures in Heaven is how it really focused on the images and the codicology. Now what you’re doing is you’re integrating a deep attention to the text as well, and the liturgy. Could you talk a little bit about that? I actually see that what you're doing is emblematic of a change in the scholarship towards more attention to text, and an ease with the textual as well as the visual traditions. More interdisciplinarity. I don’t know whether you see yourself as doing that, but you are.

Erin: No, thank you, because this is actually something that I struggle with presenting as an art historian, because I feel like I have a foot in all of these doors as I try to bring this project together. Thank you for asking because this is something that I think through a lot. I have to thank all of my advisors over the years for, one, you—I distinctly remember you saying, “You need to learn Armenian, you need to read Armenian scholarship.” At the time, I was just finishing at Tufts, and I was about to start a master’s program at SMU. I was like, “I cannot learn this language. I cannot.” Yes, of course, 10 years later.

Christina: Now look at you.

Erin: [laughs] Yes, and I’m still ever learning. I have to thank my time spent in Yerevan learning modern Armenian. Sergio La Porta has struggled to hear some of my pronunciation of classical Armenian, and Michael Pifer, and my art history advisors, Pamela Patton, Charlie Barber, Beatrice Kitzinger, they’ve all asked questions about use. I’ve been pushed in terms of language acquisition, and really reading and understanding these objects, which I understand holistically as objects. I think that’s where this urge to understand the liturgical use of the manuscript comes in, because it’s not just something that's read. It’s something that’s touched and carried, and pages are turned. All of you have really pushed me to know like, “This is a hymnal. Is it a Sharaknotsʻ, as it’s called in the Armenian tradition, or is it a hymnal?” Even the language of dealing with the names of genres has been so difficult to parse, and to understand and to present to an English-speaking world.

One of the things that I’m pushing for, in all of my work, is I’m trying not to use the word hymnal. I’m trying not to use the word Synaxarion. I’m trying to use the Armenian words, the Armenian names of these genres because they’re performing in highly specialized, ritualized Armenian language context. Their images are performing on the page embedded into a text whose recitation is so layered and so regulated.

A lot of what I’m doing is using classical Armenian Grabar trying to unpack the liturgy, trying to understand the image text relationship on the page. Then again, the physiognomical act of reading, how one is affected by the book, and how one affects the book in return. I’m grateful to now draw from all of these different fields of study and methodological approaches. It also means a lot of code switching in your writing and in your ability to intake and filter it through this devotional apparatus, which is the manuscript. Sometimes I feel like I’m an art historian last, which is very hard to manage.

Christina: [laughs]

Erin: To that end, I wanted to ask you a question about painting, because these, what we're talking about today, these are all manuscripts. They’re painted objects. I do have a few bones to pick with this text, in that it presents the Armenian gospel book as the premier site of Armenian painting, and the primary vehicle of Armenian artistic excellence. I think that you’re working on a very interesting painting, and your work is very experimental. I would like to hear about the methodologies and the painting that you deal with every day that cannot be exhibited at the Morgan.

Christina: Yes, that’s a great question. A couple of things, and then I’ll get to my question in return, but yes, you’re right. The focus which is made very clear in Treasures in Heaven is the gospel book. I think, as you say, it has a lot to do with what’s in American collections. Maybe what is statistically the most abundant of manuscripts genre type for Armenia manuscript type, but there's so many others, and so this is where your work is so important, and others who are looking beyond. It may be at the Armenian Alexander Romance or medical texts or what have you.

You mentioned my work. In my recent work, I’ve done on wall painting and using software to uncover more painting. To me, it’s been so important for me to have this scholarship both Treasures in Heaven scholarship and all the scholarship on Armenian manuscript painting to consider. There’s so many. Just for people who are listening, it’s not like in Byzantium where there's a lot of wall painting or mosaics. There are fewer examples that survive from Armenia, but that idea is premised upon how much have we been ignoring? There may be much more out there that we’re not aware of.

But because the published corpus of Armenian wall painting is so small, we need to look for iconography, we need to look at manuscripts. The kinds of questions, the examples that I find in publications like Treasures in Heaven, but many other exhibition catalogs, has been really important for me as reference.

I think I asked some of the same questions, like why does this look the way it does? Who made it? Where’s the style coming from? What purpose did it serve in the liturgy? Lots of similar questions.

Now, I wanted to just turn for a moment, because one thing we haven’t talked about, which really marks a distinction between the days of Treasures in Heaven and now, is the change in global turn and how that’s changed the way we view Armenian art. I just want to preface this by saying that in the ’90s, and I think already Byzantium was on the edge. If you did Byzantine art and you tried to get a job as a medievalist, you really have to make a great case for yourself. Forget about Armenia.

I remember being told, “You have three strikes against you, Christina, you study Armenia, you study architecture, and you study historiography, so you’re out. Next.” The thing is, so much has changed now. We could talk about why that is, but when Treasures in Heaven was published, it was, you think about, that was fairly daring for it to come out with these projects that are focused solely and unabashedly and unashamedly on Armenia when you have big catalogs on the Italian Renaissance or something like that. What I loved about it is you don’t hear a whole lot of justification, explanation for why this is important. It’s showing Armenia in context.

Now I think, for both Byzantium and Armenia, it’s a different playing field now because of the global turn. I wonder, Erin, having said all that, do you feel that when you go out and you give papers, do people ask, “Why Armenia or why are you studying that?” Just maybe talk a little bit about how you’ve had to negotiate the canon, or not, maybe you haven’t.

Erin: No, I feel very grateful for the entrance of Armenian art into a medieval corpus before my time. I do think that the move now is zooming out to contexts. Who knows if this is right or wrong, but the Armenian Apostolic tradition is in the world of the Christian east. I do sense a movement now to contextualize not only Armenian art amongst in time, but now I see a contextualization in context.

I’m grateful, at Princeton, to be in a cohort of medievalists who work and can work on manuscripts, Ethiopian manuscripts in the Geʽez tradition, and Byzantine manuscripts, and I’m doing Armenian. In that world, we can add scholars who are working on Syriac manuscripts and Coptic manuscripts. We can draw a line, maybe horizontally, instead of comparing medieval to medieval in terms of chronology, but how these manuscripts were used, and what traditions they were used in. That’s the late antique and medieval globalism, but my work is early modern. It’s characterized by Armenian populations living in major cities that they’re not indigenous to. One thing that I’m always surprised with this volume is that, in Helen Evans and Sylvie Merian’s essay, they title it “Art of the Diaspora—Armenian Art of the Diaspora,” and they’re talking about, not the diaspora that our modern colleagues discuss in their work, a 20th-century diaspora, they’re talking about Istanbul, as the Ottoman capital, they’re talking about New Julfa, Isfahan, in the Safavid Empire, Crimea, and Aleppo, and those are the diasporas they’re talking about.

Something that I’m trying to take into this global perspective, is the development of diasporic nodes, and very distinct stylistic traditions that are growing a Constantinopolitan style, which is defined in this volume, and it’s something that I’m taking with me into my dissertation and working with very directly. To know that there are these individualized and very specific Armenian painting traditions that grow out of each other, is really important, and you can see that they’re interconnected.

For example, in my work, I’m looking at, like we mentioned before, a Yaysmawurk’, this very large collection of saints’ lives. I'm focusing on the Constantinopolitan Yaysmawurk’, one that’s made in the 17th century in Istanbul, but I’m comparing it with concurrent, simultaneous traditions that are happening in Vaspurakan, in eastern Anatolia, in Aleppo, in New Julfa. Comparing those styles among themselves, and these are all Armenian manuscripts, but they are deeply, deeply influenced by their local host. This is how I’m taking it. I feel like as I go out into the world, now people know where Armenia is on the map, which is a great feeling. When I went to Armenia in 2014, people didn’t know where Armenia was.

Anna: Could you please tell us, both of you from your perspective, why do you think that Armenia has been more included now, and why Armenian studies have become more part of the canon.

Christina: I’ll take the senior privilege here. I think a couple things. I have thought about this a fair amount, because, again, when I was a grad student, nobody wanted to hear about it. I think one of the reasons is this global turn, which means that, the global Middle Ages, it’s all great because you have all these volumes and events and conferences and things to do with things global. It means I do a lot of contributing to volumes on landscape and Armenia, or this and that and Armenia. It’s been wonderful for my career. I’ve certainly been able to stack up the publications and speaking engagements that way.

Again, one could have a whole other podcast on what the global turn means and what are some of the less positive and more cynical takes on it, but for Armenia, it’s meant that it is unashamedly part of an understanding, a revised understanding of the Middle Ages, and that’s good. I think that is just good. For Armenian studies, more broadly and thinking diachronically into the modern period, I think there's also something to be said about changes in attitudes towards the Armenian Genocide, and that there is more acceptance of that as a phenomenon and a fact as there was in the ’90s.

I certainly felt it. There was much more resistance to that idea. There's less now, there’s more. I feel like there are a few things happening there, but for art history, I would say that the biggest change has been we don’t have to apologize anymore, explain anymore why the subject is important. I think that’s been great, and I’ll just put a plug in here for things, Armenia, the stuff is amazing. Now that we have people who are reading the texts, and doing careful work, there’s so much of it, whether we're talking about manuscripts or churches or metalwork, there’s so much, textiles, that you could work forever and not get to the bottom of it, and that’s what’s happening.

When I come to DC, I’m coming to Dumbarton Oaks. I’m going to work on some of your objects that are Armenian, and I’m going to enjoy that. It’s the richness of the corpus, it’s the change in attitude towards Armenian things, and I think it’s this political change too that's happened over the last couple of decades. That’s my take on it.

Erin: Christina, I have to quickly follow up and really push you and emphasize this act of looking, and how many things we have to look at, and what has been overlooked. We were discussing your painting at Ani Cathedral before, and the fact of the matter is, is that we have this corpus of Armenian art before us, and it is structured in a way, or was structured for us to not look at churches, or to not look at—I can’t wait to get my paws on some textiles. I’m so excited. There is a hierarchy that has affected all of us. I’m still studying manuscript painting, and I will, because there is so much to look at, but even in manuscript painting, the gospels are up here, and everything else is down here. Cilicia is up here, everything else is down here.

Can you talk about relearning how to look at things? Because, like I mentioned before, I have all these catalogs before me, I can go to the archive and say, “I like this. This brings up issues to me, and I’m allowed to study it.” Can you talk about going through the process of now forcing other people to look at things because now we can see them?

Christina: Well, I love that question, because, as you know, I like to get on my soapbox about looking. I learn things every day about the monuments that I work on. I discover new things almost every day, and even just tonight, I’m going to give a lecture on Ani Cathedral and some new things that are there that haven’t got attention. Sometimes, as you may know, some of the most famous monuments are the ones we ignore, or not ignore, but we don't see them. We don't look. We're not curious in the same way.

One thing I would say, and I think this is my little sermon, is that it’s really important to take the time and not think you know everything, but just have that curiosity. I think of writing my next book as a dissertation. I think of it as I don’t assume I know a monument. That’s very important. I don't assume I know it. I'm always curious. I always look with open eyes. It is amazing what you get when you do that. If you keep assuming, and that takes place in a split second, if you keep assuming, “Oh, I know that piece of wall, I know that inscription. I know that manuscript.” You look the same way. I think of it a little like shopping back in the days when we went into stores. You have to have an eye; you have to just keep looking. You never know what you're going to find.

Erin: Well, and trends are cyclical, right?

Christina: Exactly.

Erin: We see a study on one thing, and it being dropped for 30 years, and then being picked up again by graduate students.

Christina: Exactly.

Anna: I have another question that has to do with the relationship—I don’t want to use the word tension, if there is any, between Byzantine studies and Armenian studies. How would you describe this relationship back in the ’90s, maybe, and now almost 30 years later?

Christina: That’s a great question. I’m just going to speak my mind here. I have to say that in the ’90s, I got a strong sense. I love my Byzantinists, first of all, let me just say that, but there was this sense, more of a sense that everything emanated out of Constantinople. There is this nuclear energy plant in the middle of the Hagia Sophia, God rest her soul, that emanated out. By the time you get to Armenia, let alone Cappadocia, but when you get to Armenia, it’s just that you’re just working on this tiny little bandwidth with barely anything. There was that strong sense of kind of center periphery. Again, I love my Byzantinist friends, but it was always like, I had to make the case. I had to make a case for a connection to a connection to a connection somehow to Constantinople. Again, I’m speaking freely here. We’re among friends. I think over the years, and it was gradual, over the years, that changed. It started to change when we started talking about social history and patronage, and we said to ourselves, okay, this Armenian patron is not just under the influence of Byzantium. This patron is using Byzantine ideas in a particular way to advance his own ideas, his own ambitions, his own message.

As soon as we started turning it around, and I feel like that, again, it’s about in 1980s for art history, 1990s and early 2000s, in my own context, once that started happening, it started to put Armenia on its own ground, and actually started to make other very interesting connections with Constantinople. I haven’t thought it through entirely, but definitely there is a shift that is ongoing. As a result, we’re learning much more, I think, about Byzantium now from a different point of view.

Erin: This is a two way relationship, I think, whereas before, and even in Treasures in Heaven, like I said before, there’s this line that says we shouldn’t look at the signs of dependence our Armenian artistic traditions have, but read Armenian art on its own terms. I do feel like for the last at least decade, it’s been how do I case my objects and my study into these more established fields, the big brother of Armenian art. It’s been very welcoming to speak thematically. Like I said before, horizontally addressing similar concerns in individual painting traditions, because Byzantium has things that Armenia doesn’t have. Armenia has things that Byzantium doesn’t have, but the conversation is going both ways. I think if we can meet in the middle, it’s—

Christina: Cappadocia.

Erin: Yes, exactly. Everyone wants to go there. That’s actually where I should have quarantined this whole time. I wish I was somewhere in a carved rock enclosure. Exactly, if we can understand these relationships a bit better, and use objects, visual objects, to understand them, I feel like the relationship becomes much more cooperative.

Anna: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Thank you. Okay. Christina and Erin, what would you like to end this podcast with?

Erin: I’d like to ask Christina where she sees—I’m so indebted to these powerhouse scholars, like Christina, who have set the tone of the field that I study in today, who have opened doors and have taken me from 18 to today. I’d like to know, Christina, where are you taking us on? What’s the next turn in our journey?

Christina: All this time that we’ve been talking, I've been thinking, what about 2040? Let’s meet again in 2040 and have another—maybe we’ll be on a different planet. I don’t know. Maybe we won’t be around, but it’s so true. Maybe every generation congratulates itself on being more enlightened than the next, although these days who knows, but it does—You do wonder what’s next for the field. I feel like we’re doing so well right now. We have students like you who are deep into the texts and the images, who are trying to understand conceptually what’s happening within cultures within Armenia. So, what’s next?

I don’t know, machine learning. I have no idea. I’m not even going to speculate on it, but what I will say is that something that is happening, I think, is an understanding that objects, monuments, manuscripts have finite lives. Maybe one thing that will be increasingly a part of our study is a respect for the physical object, respect for the monument knowing that, like us, they may not always be around, and the job of the scholar, the art historian, is to make sure we understand as much as we can, and what can these things teach us. That’s something that I have increasingly in my mind going forward.

With the news, as it is, I think about that, just how much we still have to learn, and how important it is to care for the objects and the monuments that are teaching us.

Erin: Hopefully, our listeners know the tremendous work that you’ve done on Mren Cathedral. We have to fight for our monuments, for their history. We have to maintain it. We have to cultivate it. We have to drag the past into the present, not only with how we care for these things, but the questions that we ask of them, and how they influence our scholarship.

Christina: Right back at you, Erin, with your work at the Matenadaran, you care about these objects as physical objects, and that’s an important part of what you do. I think we agreed on that. Warmly agreed.

Anna: It’s wonderful to end the podcast on such an optimistic note for the humanities in general. It sounds like you are very optimistic about the future, so let’s hope that this optimism, it comes true in the end. That’s what I try to say.

Thank you very much. Thank you very much both of you for a very lively podcast, and for taking us to Armenia, which was an area we hadn’t covered at all during our other two podcasts, apart from the fact that your discussion was on art history, which is also a field that we wanted, but Armenia.

Erin: Anna, Judy—I have to thank both of you for organizing this and for wrangling us. We’re a difficult duo to keep on track.

Christina: You did good.

Erin: Thank you.

Christina: Thank you.

Anna: Podcast musical theme is from the Concerto in E-Flat “Dumbarton Oaks” by Igor Stravinsky, recorded by the Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra, Kenneth Slowik, conducting. This is actually the end of our summer podcast series. Stay tuned for more online activities from the Byzantine Studies Program at Dumbarton Oaks.