The initial characteristic design that typifies the Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem is the ‘Birds Mosaic’ taken from the mosaic floor of the Armenian Chapel from the sixth century, which was revealed north of the Damascus Gate in 1894. In the mosaic a vine emerging from an amphora is intertwined and forms medallions enclosing pairs of birds. A pair of peacocks flank the amphora and above them a pelican, a basket of fruit, a caged bird, an eagle, an oyster – all traditional Christian symbols. The Armenian people were the first to accept Christianity in the year 301 C.E. and in Byzantine Jerusalem there were many Armenian churches.
The Armenian Ceramic artists, on arrival in the Holy City as refugees in the the twentieth century after the genocide of their people during the First World War, got to know of the ancient mosaic. symbols that represent expressions of sacrifice and redemption in early Christianity. They saw in it a powerful and significant expression of their personal and national tragedy, and their religious and national aspirations. The Armenian inscription at the top of the mosaic: "For Memory and Salvation – of all the Armenians Whose Names the Lord Knows"marking the tortured saints of the Armenian Church at the beginning of Christianity that was felt as a thrust of a sword in their hearts, and sparked their feelings when they came to establish anew their lives in Jerusalem.
“True to Tradition – Unique in Design and Workmanship”
from the catalogue of the ‘Dome of the Rock Tiles’ workshop
The first workshop, “The Dome of the Rock Tiles”, was established in 1919 by David Ohannessian from Kütahya. In 1922 Megerdish Karakashian and Neshan Balian set up the “Palestine Pottery” workshop. These two workshops were the main ones and established the nature of Armenian ceramics in Jerusalem during the British mandate, until 1948. Alongside them apparently, some small workshops operated, but these did not leave their mark. The first local design that was adopted by the Armenian artists was the “Birds Mosaic” which since has attained many forms and variations in images, form and color on wall surfaces, tiles and other artifacts.
From the nineteen seventies generations of young ceramic artists have arisen, who have established new pottery workshops. Based on the on the older tradition created in the twentieth century they have sought to explore new designs and incorporate them in their work. They drew inspiration from earlier Armenian Art and especially from manuscripts that touched on their identity as members of the exiled Armenian community on the one hand, and as residents of the Holy City on the other.
Contemporary Armenian artists, third and fourth generation in the land, were invited to create their personal exposition on tiles and artifacts – artistic and national – influenced by the design of the ancient “Birds Mosaic”.