Thursday, September 25, 2014


Since the earliest civilizations, Georgians have been honing their artistic talents. Every group who came in and controlled this area left a piece of their own culture when they were here which stayed when they left. Because of its location, early influences on Georgian art include that of the Mesopotamians (now Iraq, Kuwait, and parts of Syria, Turkey, and Iran), Anatolians (now mostly Turkey, but parts of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Mesopotamian lands), Greeks, Persians (now mostly in Iran), Romans, and Byzantines (Bulgaria, Greece, Russia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus).

Early art included paintings and mosaic arts of religious figures and scenes. Calligraphy and religious iconography were especially coveted skills in the church. Religious-based sculptures of prominent saints and Biblical characters fill not only churches but some more well-off people’s homes as well.  Goldsmith work was also very popular, especially in both jewelry and in small sculptures and reliquaries.

Towards the late 19th century and into the 20th century, Georgian art began to be influenced from other areas of Europe, namely the traditions coming out of the art capitals of Europe: France, Italy, Spain, and elsewhere. Russian art also had a huge impact on Georgian art, especially while under Russian rule. 

Some of the major Georgian artists include Gia Bugadze (muralist, painter, Rector of the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts from 2003-2012), Gigo Gabashvili (painter, first major painter to paint all different kinds of subjects in both oils and watercolor), Lado Gudiashvili (painter, used a lot of mythological influences), David Kakabadze (avant-garde painter, graphic artist, scenic designer), Shalva Kikodze (expressionist painter, graphic artist, theatre set designer), Niko Pirosmani (known simply as Nikala, primitivist painter, portrait is on the 1-gel banknote), and Sergo Tbileli (painter, sculpter, and designer).

by Niko Pirosmani
The earliest literature from the pre-Christian days was in the form of epic poems. Historical accounts, hymns, and stories about the royalty were also commonly written during the early periods of Georgian literature. After Christianity was introduced to the Georgian people, hagiographic and other religious writing dominated the canon of literature in the early centuries of this era.

from a Georgian-Italian dictionary
Secular epic poetry and odes were still probably the most commonly written works during the Middle Ages. Contributing to the world of prose with Book of Wisdom and Lies, Prince Sulkhan-Saba Orbeiani also created the first Georgian language dictionary during the 17th century. The Georgian language borrows words from many other languages, but its grammar is unique in and of its own. (I wish someone would explain Georgian names to me, though. It seems that many last names either end in “–dze” or “–vili.” Does this have a particular meaning?)  Soon after dictionaries of Georgian to other languages began to be produced as well. 

Nineteenth- and twentieth-century writing shows many influential characteristics from styles that are commonly used in Russian literature.  During the Soviet period, Georgian writers and other intellectuals suffered greatly in Joseph Stalin’s “Great Purge.” Eclectic poetry and prose seemed to dominate Georgian literature during the post-Soviet years.  Donald Rayfield, a London professor of Georgian and Russian, wrote a book called The Literature of Georgia: A History, chronicling the influences of Georgian literature throughout the centuries. It’s the first of its kind written in the English language and a great reference in Georgian literature.

K Gamsakhurdia -- not a happy guy.
Konstantine Gamsakhurdia is considered one of the most influential Georgian writers of the 20th century. Although he was highly opposed to the Russian politics of the day, he somehow managed to escape the fate of most other writers and intellectuals. He is most famous for his novel The Right Hand of the Grand Master and his post-WWII works The Flowering of the Vine and David the Builder.

M Javakhishvili
Mikheil Javakhishvili often shares the podium next to Gamsakhurdia as the other most influential writer from Georgia. Javakhishvili tended to incorporate folk language into his writing and his topics ranged from the differences between country and city life, rebellion, violence, sexual passions, and other taboo subject matter. This didn’t put him in the Russian’s good graces. He’s best known for his novels Jaqo’s Dispossessed and Arsena Marabdeli. Unlike Gamsakhurdia, Javakhishvili was not able to escape the grip of Stalin’s Great Purge; he was executed in 1937.

Up next: music and dance

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