Khachkar (lit. cross-stone) is made of a block of a meticulously decorated stone relief to commemorate a religious event, a historical event or to serve as a gravestone. This is largely a form of medieval Armenian art with few sculptors left who continue making these reliefs in modern days. Making of khachkars is a traditional form of Armenian artwork. Some of the discovered khachkars were painted red, even less commonly - bluish and white.
The Earliest Khachkar
The earliest known khachkar devoted to Queen Katranide was made in 879 AD and is now located in Garni.
In 11th - 12th centuries the development of various types khachkars has reached its mature state. After it, a set of established types emerged which we will discuss below
- khachkars made of one piece of rock with the bottom part based in the ground. This type either has a flat rectangle top or an arched top wider than the bottom
- Starting from 11th century more involved designs emerged. These were khachkars as before but embedded in hollowed and polished rocks. The hollow rock could be large enough to include several khachkars. The ensemble itself was sometimes placed inside a monument wall. This type was prevalent in 11th - 14th centuries, going into decline after that period.
- In 11th, 12th centuries a new type emerged called "Cornice Khachkars". This type of khachkars is characterized by the fact that the top part was conceptually different from the lower part. In later developments, the top part became a separate piece of stone. Studies have speculated that in this type of khachkars the bottom part represented the mortal life, the cornice had carvings of the celestial sphere with Eden-like garden representing heaven and the cross in-between was perceived as a mediator between the 2 realms.
- From the 12th century, group khachkars started to appear. They either had a common pedestal for all the cross-stones or individual pedestals for each of them side by side.
- From the composition point of view khachkars depicting birds are a special type. Of an ideological importance is not the bird itself but its position on the relief. The bottom part is occupied by water or earthly birds. The middle part is occupied by piculet type of birds and the dome, also called cornice, is sculpted with soaring birds like partridges, doves, peacocks, etc. This is the medieval Armenian model of the world depicted through the hierarchy of birds.