Magazine Mar/Apr 2013 The Art of Arms and Armory

01 April 2013, 17:48
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The Art of Arms and Armory

"These works of art," gushes PIERRE TERJANIAN enthusiastically, as he walked me through some of the more than 14,000 spectacular objects from Europe, Japan, the Muslim world and the Americas in the arms and armor collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. "I see these objects differently each time I look at them. This is an invitation to find out more about them," he relates, his eyes glowing with excitement.

Pierre Terjanian was recently appointed as the curator in the Arms and Armor Department at this world-famous institution. Thomas P. Campbell, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has called him “an impressive scholar with strong curatorial credentials and experience.” At age 43, Terjanian is one of the youngest to serve in this coveted role, and comes from a background that includes simultaneously holding dual roles of the J.J. Medveckis Associate Curator of Arms and Armor as well as the Acting Head of the Department of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture Before 1700 at the Pennsylvania Museum of Art, where he has worked in different capacities since 1997.
Born in Strasbourg, France, he received a master’s degree in law from Universite Paris II Pantheon-Assas, a Master of Science degree in Management from HEC Paris, and a doctoral degree in history from Universite de Metz, as well as graduate study in history at the University of California at Berkeley.

Why are you attracted to the world of arms and armor?
There are several reasons for my interest. First, the objects are spectacular. I’m attracted to their beauty. I see in them an incredible accomplishment in terms of design and execution. When you’re in the galleries, you experience the excitement of these objects. You are often as surprised as you were when you saw them for the first time. Most of the objects in our collection were made to order for specific circumstances, maybe as gifts, an occasion of great importance, a political summons, a presentation of diplomatic negotiation, a military campaign. The significance is behind the creation of the object. Then the objects have taken on a life of their own. After these objects were used, they were preserved because somebody actively prevented their destruction. And there are various reasons for that. That is what we love about the history of the objects in our collection– where they have been and what it meant to the people who were taking care of them. So that is another layer of discovery which fascinates me. These objects, because they were practical, always have a utilitarian aspect. And of course they were designed to be aesthetically pleasing and to project a certain image, an image of the person who owned them and used them. So they contribute to the representation of authority, power. And it’s not always for powerful men, but also for powerful women. Some were also made for children, for their training, to herald their membership in the social elite world.

How were these objects used by women? And were most of these 14,000 objects that the Museum acquired from the many different areas of the world mainly for the upper class?
Women used them in a number of contexts, but mainly for hunting, since women participated fully in the hunt. Women hunted birds, hares, deer, bears, bigger game. These were noble women who also played an important role in commissioning objects for presentation. The Metropolitan has recently acquired a wonderful 17th century gun made in the French tradition for Austrian Empress Margareta Theresa of the Hapsburgs.
Most of what has been selected in this collection tends to represent the high end of the work done by these creators who collaborated and represents what was commissioned by nobility and royalty. But there are exceptions. There are weapons made for bodyguards, which typically have the coats of arms of their sovereign. And in some cases, the bodyguards had to be noble in order to serve.

What are the many facets involved in this specialized work?
There are so many different facets to this work. It is a convergence of things – there is the utilitarian aspect, the artistic dimension, the historical and social context, and beyond that is the fact that these objects are under-researched. There is a lot of information about them, and it requires collecting and contrasting them. Much of this information remains unpublished and is kept in storerooms in other museums or in private collections. It requires going back to the sources, archives, and documenting the conditions in order to identify the makers and patrons, and then reconstructing the circumstances for which the objects were expected to be used. So there is a lot of detective work

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