Art and Architecture

Georgia, at the crossroads of civilizations, has always been steeped in culture. With its distinctly national characteristics as well as an ability to borrow from cultures as diverse asPersian, Roman and Russian, Georgian art is a unique blend of different influences that still manages to be innately Georgian. Georgia’s immensely rich architectural heritage is something no visitor of the country can ignore.

From Roman ruins to art nouveau mansions Georgia has lots of interesting and diverse buildings. The country’s churches are perhaps Georgia’s greatest architectural treasure. All over the country, from the biggest towns to the most remote mountaintops, fabulous churches, complete with intricate details and amazing carving, have stood the test of time. Georgian churches have developed from the simple basilica style seen in places like Bolnisi Sioni, through to the glorious tetra-conch designs of Jvari and Ateni Sioni right up to the amazing, serene cathedrals. It was the Golden Age, between the 11th and early 13th century that many of Georgia’s best buildings have come down to us. These include Gelati, Svetishkhoveli and Alaverdi.

Towers and village strongholds on the slopes of Great Caucasus Range (Svaneti, Khevsureti and Tusheti) form in inalienable part of Georgian architecture. Their majority were built in the Late Middle Ages, some being even older.

As the 19th century was fading away, Europe witnessed the rise of a new and very popular style: Art nouveau, referred to as Modernist style in Georgia. Modernistic forms in Tbilisi acquired an original shape and character and are now part of the world heritage. The neo-classical and art nouveau streets of Batumi and Tbilisi date form this period, while impressive buildings from the Soviet era have also made their mark.

Over the centuries, Georgia was in the sphere of influence of both Eastern and Western civilizations. By blending the two civilizations with its own centuries-old traditions, Georgia formed its original, national culture, where the fine arts played a decisive role, especially frescos, painting and enamel.

Georgian fresco painting reached a zenith during the golden age of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Featuring both religious and secular themes, the coloring and iconography of Georgian frescoes display a reimagining of byzantine styles and motifs, and achieve something very refined and utterly distinct.

Udabno Monastery inDavit Gareja contains some amazing examples of a unique school of painting developed here. Ateni Sioni near Gori and Betania near Tbilisi house some of the frescoes in the country, as does Gelati, which also has fine mosaics. Bodbe near Sighnaghi has interesting 18th century frescoes, while Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi has some very unusual modernist frescoes from the early 20th century.

Many of these religious monuments are just as interesting for their exterior decoration, however. Georgian relief sculpture is a unique blend of local, Greco-Roman and Persian influences. Stylized yet highly detailed scenes are common on many churches, notably Nikortsminda in Racha and Ananuri on the famous Georgian Military Highway. Icon painting, metal tracery and enamel work are other areas where Georgia developed its own unique and important style. Dazzling examples of icons, altarpieces and procession crosses are on display at the State Art Museum.

The national awakening of the late nineteenth and early 20th century also provided a major stimulus to Georgian art. Georgians returning from Paris, St Petersburg and elsewhere brought new modern ideas to Georgian painting, which took a wholly new path. Artists such as Lado Gudiashvili, Davit Kakabadze and Elene Akhvlediani, who was a friend ofPicasso, took ideas like cubism and impressionism and applied them in a Georgian context. Georgia’s favorite painter, however, is the early 20th century primitivist Niko Pirosmani, whose depictions of feasts, exotic animals and ordinary lives in Tbilisi can be seen at the State Art Museum.