Traditional Azerbaijani Art

RAM AND HORSE, 12th-13th centuries
Stone sculptures, dimensions 132x139,5x31,5 cm and 147x142,5x23,5 cm (provenance Ashagi Ayibli village, Tovuz, Azerbaijan)
Date of entry at UNESCO
Country of origin Azerbaijan
Donating country Azerbaijan
Donation made by the Republic of Azerbaijan in 2012, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of their membership to UNESCO.
© Photo: UNESCO
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Memorial Plastic Art of Azerbaijan

Memorial Art is one of the most known forms of traditional Azerbaijani folk art. It relies upon ancient secular traditions, which have over time resulted in the creation of an ensemble of artistic arrangements composed of signs, symbols, images and themes. This form of art includes tombstones or funerary steles, like those presented here.

The dimensions of such sculptures vary between 1 and 3.5 meters. The shape and style may vary depending on the region where they were created. They are predominantly made of sandstone as it can be easily carved, although marble is used in certain specific cases. The same techniques and methods are used in making all types of tombstones, which ensures a certain homogeneity despite varied shapes and symbols.

The masters of this art, both in the past and nowadays, work almost independently throughout all stages of the creative process and until the installation of the finished sculpture. Only traditional handmade methods, passed down orally through the generations, are used. This knowledge is not only relevant to the skills of stone carving, but also to decoration and symbols.

This memorial Art is also present in other regions where a strong Azerbaijani population may be found, such as in Georgia, Daghestan (in The Russian Federation) and, recently, Armenia. It is important to note that in almost all of these regions, the local communities are an important source of support and patronage for this production. It is in part thanks to these communities that the preservation and continuation of these traditions and symbols are guaranteed.

These techniques were first developed in the early Medieval Period, but it is during the 16th and 17th centuries that a complete artistic system was put in place and continues still to this day. The themes depicted in this memorial Art include include cosmogonic symbols, images of domestic objects, human or animal figures. They also to some extent include themes relating to the life and activities of the deceased. The concept and subject matter of these sculptures are influenced by the hieratic iconography, which reflects both Christianity and Islam, which spread throughout Azerbaijan and continue to co-exist today. The origins of these symbols and topics reflect the fundamental principles of the lifestyle and the cultural and philosophical values of the people of Azerbaijan.

This art is not frozen in the past but continues to evolve, whether through historical events, cultural influences, etc. While preserving its fundamental traditions put in place over the centuries it is constantly supplemented by new images and topics. Exploration of the symbolism and decorative language of memorial Art can help understand the social and cultural changes in society. The importance of this form of art is recognized by most of the Azerbaijani population as an integral part of the country’s cultural and historical heritage, and an important element of its identity.

Many of these works of art are today preserved in Azerbaijan’s national and regional museums, such as the National Museum of History and the National Museum of Fine Arts in Baku, or the regional history museums in Yardymly, Lenkoran, Ganja, Gabala, Yevlakh, Goranboy and elsewhere.

In recent years, master sculptors have often reproduced these works, particularly those representing ships and horses. They are used to decorate parks and the interiors of public buildings, providing visual evidence of the importance of this art as an element connecting society with its cultural heritage. Memorial Art in Azerbaijan hence remains an important cultural factor which continues to live, exist and evolve with society itself.

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