Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Death of Toros Toramanian (March 1, 1934)

A portrait of Toramanian by Martiros Sarian.
The scientific study of Armenian architecture has reached important milestones since the early twentieth century. One name is to be remembered as its pioneer: Toros Toramanian.

Toramanian was born on March 18, 1864 in the city of Shabin-Karahisar, in Western Armenia. (One year later, another famous Armenian would be born there: General Antranig.) He attended the local Armenian schools, and at the age of fourteen, he lost his parents. In 1884 he left for Constantinople to pursue higher education. After working for two years as a mason and stone worker, he approved the entrance exam of the School of Fine Arts and studied architecture from 1886 to 1893.

He graduated in 1893, but he had not begun his career yet, when he was forced to leave the city due to the massacres ordained by Sultan Abdul Hamid II. After going to Belgium, he then moved to Sofia and Varna, in Bulgaria, where he built several public and residential buildings. He went to Romania in 1900, and then visited Egypt, Italy, and Greece.

Toramanian settled in Paris in 1902, where he deepened his knowledge on history of architecture at the Sorbonne. There he met Garabed Basmajian, director of the journal Banaser, whom he already knew from Constantinople. They put together the project of a mission to Ani in order to study the monuments of the capital of the Bagratuni Kingdom. They traveled in 1903, and discovered that the task was immense, and their means were very limited. Basmadjian returned to Paris to collect the necessary funds, and Toramanian remained alone in Ani, but he never obtained any financial assistance.
The ruins of a church in Ani.
He wintered in Ani, in extremely difficult conditions. In an article on the church of Zvartnots published in 1905, he wrote: “I decided to stay and work in Ani to save from oblivion the remnants of the glorious past of our great people in order to be able to show them to the whole world.”

Toramanian had meanwhile participated in the excavations of Zvartnots, near Etchmiadzin, in the spring of 1904. He made a detailed study of the remaining pieces of the church, destroyed by an earthquake in the ninth century, and examined one by one all of them. This archaeological approach, quite unusual for the time, allowed him to propose the model of reconstruction of the circular church of Zvartnots that we know today.

The remains of Zvartnots Cathedral near the airport named after it in Armenia.
In 1904 Professor Nicolas Marr, from the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg, made his second campaign of excavations in Ani. Toramanian joined his team, and had the opportunity to study many monuments of the former Armenian capital, as well as of the surroundings, including the monasteries of Horomos, Tekor, and Bagnayr. In 1905-1906 the team of Marr discovered the remnants of the church of Gagikashen in Ani. Moreover, the finding of the statue of its builder, King Gagik I of Ani, holding the model of the church, confirmed Toramanian’s reconstruction of the circular church of Zvartnotz with three floors.

The architect continued his association with Marr at Ani and made various publications in Armenian journals, and became well-known in scholarly circles. In 1913 he was invited to Vienna by the famous Austrian art historian Josef Strzygowski (1862-1941) to give lectures on Armenian art, particularly about Ani. They had projected a joint work on the subject, based on the documents and materials that Toramanian had gathered. Afterwards, Toramanian accompanied Strzygowski on a brief trip in Armenia, and promised to complete the documentation for the joint publication.

The beginning of World War I made it impossible for Toramanian to travel back to Austria to continue work on the publication. In 1918, however, the cover of the two-volume Die Baukunst die Armenier und Europa (The Art of the Armenians and Europe), which would engage specialists of European medieval art in heated debates, only had Strzygowski’s name on it, with Toramanian reduced to the role of an informant. Besides, he had lost most of his archives and unpublished works during the Ottoman invasion of Armenia in 1918, followed by the flee of his family from Alexandropol to Tiflis, including a dictionary of Armenian architecture, a comparative study of Byzantine and Armenian architecture, and a study on the history of Armenian funerary monuments.

After the establishment of the Soviet regime in Armenia, Toramanian became one of the founding members of the Committee for the Maintenance of Monuments. He created the Department of Architecture of the State Museum of Armenia, which he directed for two years. He passed away on March 1,1934, and his archives provided the material for the two-volume Materials for the History of Armenian Architecture, posthumously published in 1942 and 1948.