Christina Maranci
Department of Art History
End-of-Year Fellowship Report for 2007-08

My intent for the fellowship was to write a chapter on the subject of memory in early medieval Armenia. It started with a general question: how was memory understood, and what was its relation to visual culture? I focused on a single monument, the seventh-century church of Ptghni, which I chose for its rare depiction of ancestors and use of spolia. I found a helpful source in the eighth-century history of Movsēs Khorenats‘i, which offers a genealogy of the patron’s family, the Amatunik‘, linking them to an ancient Jewish tradition. I argued that the spolia, which features a truncated scene of Daniel in the Lion’s Den, presented a material assertion of such claims of heredity. As I worked on this problem, evidence mounted to suggest something rather more basic: that the monument was a dynastic memorial. Surviving sculptural reliefs at Ptghni matched closely with a royal tomb only twenty-five kilometers away. Among the interesting connections with funerary art were a series of arches inhabited by birds of various species: a rare theme that is also found in the Armenian mosaics of Jerusalem, which are understood as memorials (hishatakaranner).

At the end of the chapter-writing process, I began to think more about another aspect of the monument. Ptghni is covered with masons’ marks: small diagrammatic or alphabetic signs that are incised into the center of many of the facing stones. Such marks may be understood on one level as part of a broad, trans-cultural phenomenon, and their use in Armenia, although widespread, has not been carefully documented. Their original function is also unclear. Yet I was (and remain) interested in how such marks might disrupt the reading of aristocratic messages on the church.

Conference Talks
“The Church of Ptghni: A Dynastic Mausoleum?” Association Internationale des études arméniennes, 11th General Conference, Paris, 11-13 September, 2008.

Invited Lectures
“Architecture and Memory in Early Medieval Armenia,” Symposium on Armenian Studies, King’s College, Cambridge, England, June 10-12, 2008.

“Sculpting Genealogy and Inscribing the Memory in Early Medieval Armenia,” St. Nersess Seminary, New Rochelle, New York, April 14, 2008.

“Memory in Early Medieval Armenia,” UWM School of Architecture, April 4, 2008.

“The Church of Ptghni,” Department of Art History, Tufts University, March 5, 2008.

Chapter Three of my book, Powerful Geometries: Building Churches in Early Medieval Armenia.



Center for 21st Century Studies

Merry Wiesner-Hanks

Center for 21st Century Studies / University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Postal Address: P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201 USA
Street Address: Curtin Hall 929, 3243 N. Downer Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53211 USA
tel: 414-229-4141; fax: 414-229-5964; email:



  Last updated 11/12/08 by DSC