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Detail of a king offering the model of the church

The reliefs on the dome of the Gandzasar church are not only original examples of decoration but are individually significant in their content. On the two western sides of the drum are two sculpted images depicting a pair of seated men of oriental style, holding models of two churches above their heads. One of the churches is Gandzasar, the other Vadzar. Nothing remains of this latter church except written testimony; the model, however, enables us to get an idea of what it was like: a circular disposition of masses, centrally planned, rather similar to the church of the Saviour at Ani. Stone models of churches are very widespread in medieval Armenian architecture. They may be divided into four groups according to their meaning and function: representations of donor-patrons, reliquaries, pediment decoration and, lastly, design prototypes (P. Cuneo). The models on the drum of the Gandzasar dome, with their donor-reliefs, belong to the first group; other examples may be found in a number of Armenian monasteries: Aght'amar, Haghbat, Sanahin, Haridchavank', Haghartzin, Dadivank'. But the donation scenes and models at Gandzasar are absolutely original in style, and have no equal in medieval Armenian art. The type of model used for pediment decoration is also to be found in this church. At the peak of each of the four facades of the building rise different models depicting small domes. This type too is widespread in monastic complexes (St. Grigor Bardzarak'ash, Haridchavank'. Geghard, Amaghu Noravank'). On the face of the drum between the two reliefs are sculptured the figures of Christ and, below, Adam and Eve. They form a single scene, the centre being occupied by Christ. There is a similar group on the southern side of the dome. Here, again arranged in symmetrical mode, are the figures of kneeling, hafoed men (probably Apostles) turned towards the Virgin depicted in the tympanum on the central section of the drum.

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The monastery of Gandzasar