Cultural Interactions in the Medieval Subcaucasian Region: Historiographical and Art-Historical Perspectives 


SNF Project 197295

The main objective of this Lead agency project is to investigate exchanges and interactions between the medieval cultures of present-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, including monuments in Eastern Anatolia, now in Turkey. The project, dealt with in synergy by a Czech and a Swiss team, will focus on a complex understanding of the cultural contacts characterising these geographical spaces from the 5th to the 13th century, within a “global” dialogue, and is expected to have an impact on both the scholarly domain and a wider audience.

The main issue with such an endeavour is a series of historiographical layers preventing a confident analysis of the material, visual, and ritual cultures of this area. Indeed, the cultures of the Caucasian and Sub-Caucasian regions (Zekiyan 1996) have had a complex and contested history throughout the period of modern art history’s existence. Its historical situation has led to multiple colonial interests. In the 19th century, for two centuries, the region was divided between the Russian Empire and its Ottoman counterpart. Later, it was torn between the USSR and Turkey. Under the USSR, three formal states appeared - Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia - which became independent nation states only in 1991. This condition had its roots in the medieval period, when the different states somewhat corresponded to the present ones. To make this situation even more complex, Eastern Anatolia was from 1915 to 1921 the setting of an event that is considered by many states, including Switzerland and the Czech Republic, a genocide. Subsequently, medieval monuments were destroyed or heavily damaged in the region, probably by the Turkish army. An art historical problem thus also touches on contemporary history. However, looking at a map where medieval Armenia, Albania, and Georgia are superposed at the moment of their greatest expansion, we are forced to consider that almost half of the described territory was, at a certain point, shared. Moreover, considering the monuments from the period under investigation, many connecting elements appear throughout the region and point out that a constant dialogue occurred throughout the Middle Ages. Real differences of a political, religious, or linguistic nature were thus united by a series of coherences in visual and material culture. The panorama described above determines this project.


The two teams involved will be working together on two main lines of study, intrinsically linked. 

  1. A historiographical analysis of art historical writings on the region will be carried out, with a special focus on: a) Russian colonial discourse during the Imperial period, especially after the creation of the overarching unit of the Viceroyalty of the Southern Caucasus; b) the description of artistic monuments and their value by Western travellers during the 19th and early 20th centuries; c) Soviet observations on the art of the region; d) the Ottoman and Turkish outlook on the artistic production of Eastern Anatolia (until c. 1990).
  2. The second main line of research will investigate the dynamics by which specific sets of forms, object-types, and patterns associated with other cultures were appropriated, transformed, and adapted to local contexts in the Subcaucasian area. The focus will be on both the shared and distinctive elements underlying the making of Medieval liturgical buildings, here interpreted as spatial-relational, experiential, and performative strategies for the mise-en-scène of a community’s interaction with the divine sphere through rite, collective worship, and devotion. A special emphasis will be laid on a) the shifting relation between the inner arrangement of churches and the adoption of liturgies associated with Jerusalemite, Constantinopolitan, or other usages; b) the impact of the liturgical hierarchization of spaces on the shaping of architectural and figurative décors; c) the prominent role played by buildings associated with the Jerusalem holy sites erected during the so-called 7th-century golden age; d) the ways in which the adoption of analogous patterns lead to the shaping of both similar and dissimilar spaces.
  • Team

    Team University of Fribourg

    • Michele Bacci, Principal Investigator
    • Manuela Studer-Karlen
    • Nato Chitishvili
    • Gohar Grigoryan-Savary
    • Thomas Kaffenberger
    • Vesna Scepanovic


    Team of the Center for Early Medieval Studies, Masaryk University, Brno

    • Ivan Foletti, Principal Investigator
    • Ruben Campini
    • Klára Doležalová
    • Alžbeta Filipová
    • Veronika Hermanová
    • Katarína Kravcíková
    • Annalisa Moraschi
    • Adrien Palladino
  • Conferences and Lectures

    2021_11_03 : Project Kickoff Meeting 

    Morning Session 9:30–12:00

    Michele Bacci & Ivan Foletti | From Fragmentation to Integration: A New Perspective on the Material Cultures of the Southern

    Natalia Chitishvili | Bolnisi cathedral and the division of congregational space in some early medieval Georgian churches.
    Afternoon Session 13:30–17:00

    Short Presentations of the Project Participants followed by a Roundtable



    2021_04_11: International Team Meeting

    14:00: Greetings
    14:10: Ruben Campini & Annalisa Maraschi | Armenian medieval art through the "ltalian" lens
    between 1841 and 1930
    14:40: Adrien Palladino | Kurt Weitzmann's 'Armenische Buchmalerei' (1933): a dialogue between Armenia, Byzantium,and the Mediterranean
    15:10: Roundtable presentation of work(in progress) by members of the two teams
    15:30: Discussion and information about the next project steps

    2022_06-16_09 : Field trip to Svaneti and conference at Tbilisi

    16_09_2022 : Conference at Tbilisi The Interaction of Objects, Images, and Bodies with Built and Natural Spaces in Medieval Svaneti

    9h30: Greetings: Ekatrine Gedevanishvili /
    Manuela Studer-Karlen
    CHAIR: Michele Bacci
    9h45: Nina Chichinadze: “Icons of Svaneti Art
    and Devotion”
    10h15: Nana Burchuladze: “Icons from Svaneti
    in the Context of Byzantine Painting”
    10h45: Nutsa Batiashvili / Nikoloz Aleksidze:
    “Symbolic Treasure, Care and
    Materiality in Upper Svaneti”
    11h15: discussion
    11h45: coffee break
    CHAIR: Ivan Foletti
    12h00: Kenia Marine: “Image of the Virgin in
    the Medieval Painting of Svaneti”
    12h30: Ekatrine Gedevanishvili: “The ‘Reading’
    of the Façade Decoration of the Svipi
    Church: Historical and Cultural contexts”
    13h00: Tony Eastmond: “Saints and Society in
    13h30: discussion
    14h00: lunch

  • Publications

    Studer-Karlen, Manuela; Chitishvili, Natalia; Kaffenberger, Thomas (Eds): Georgia as a Bridge between Cultures. Dynamics of Artistic Exchanges

    The role played by Georgia as a site of cultural interaction and as a multicultural society has only attracted a more profound interest recently. Indeed, the country is part of a transcultural, dynamic region with multiple agents. The contributions in this volume show that medieval Georgian art comprises its own traditional understanding which was then being combined with and integrated into contemporary liturgies. Medieval Georgian art is presented as a rendering of currently relevant liturgical changes which, due to the constant exchange and dialogue, had similar approaches to those of the Byzantine Empire – it is a Byzantium without borders.


    • Manuela Studer-Karlen, Georgia as a Bridge between Cultures: Dynamics of Artistic Exchange
    • Ivan Foletti, Belting from Belting. From Moscow to Constantinople, and to Georgia (introduction to Belting)
    • Hans Belting, The Painter Manuel Eugenikos from Constantinople in Georgia, translated by Adrien Palladino


    • Ekaterine Gedevanishvili, The Khakhuli Dome Decoration
    • Irene Giviashvili, Liturgy and Architecture: Constantinopolitan Rite and Changes in the Architectural Planning of Georgian Churches
    • Nato Chitishvili, Altars in Medieval Georgian Churches: Preliminary Notes on their Arrangement, Decoration, and the Rite of Consecration
    • Thomas Kaffenberger, Liminal Spaces of Memory, Devotion, and Feasting? Porch-Chapels in Eleventh-Century Georgia
    • Manuela Studer-Karlen, The Monastery of the Transfiguration in Zarzma: At the Intersection of Biblical Narration and Liturgical Relevance
    • Irma Mamasakhlisi, The Theme of the Last Judgment in Medieval Georgian Art (Tenth–Thirteenth Centuries)


    Order the book at Brepols