Centers of Icon Painting in 18th-19th Century: Palekh, Mstera and Kholui
In the 18th and 19th centuries the shift in Russian ideology moved from Orthodox Christianity to Communism.
The new leader, Lenin, banned all forms of religious artifacts.
The villages of Palekh, Mstera and Kholui are examples of ancient Russian culture adapting to survive.
Revolution has a way of forcing cultures into massive change. In the late 18th century there were present indications that the ideology was starting to shift away from the standard of the Orthodox Church. This would prove to be detrimental for icon
painting and the skilled artisans that beloved it. The October Revolution of 1917 proved to be a monumental transition for both theology and Russian artistry. As Russia embraced Communism, the old traditions of Orthodox Christianity had to sink into the shadows for preservation. Lenin quickly banned all forms of religious artifacts and the once acclaimed iconographers found themselves unable to paint for fear of persecution.
One of the strongest themes throughout Russian history is the desire of a people to survive. Three small towns to the Northeast of Moscow are examples of this. These skilled artisans where forced into adaptation for the importance of survival. In the 19th century, little "cottage industries" developed in the towns of Pakekh, Mstera, and Kholui that would continue to carry the traditions of icon
painting into its now contemporary form. The Fedoskino style of lacquer painting and polishing combined with papier mache, and traditional icon painting became the new style for Russian iconographers.
In 1924, a group of icon
painters formed the Old Painting Artel, in Palekh. Out of the three styles, Paketh is the most unrealistic, thus staying true to the traditional Byzantine style. It is mostly noted for the use of black backgrounds. One of the more noticeable differences is that there is never a sky painted, only the sun, moon, and clouds; which is referred to as the "plain air" style. The ground has a more jagged appearance and trees are always depicted as Palm Trees. The figures tend to have the elongated bodies from the sacred icons
, and typically have darker skin tones. The use of gold leaf on the details of the trees, hairs, and costumes are customary.Colors tend to be very clear and brilliant. The image of water is often depicted to have waves like that of the sea or ocean, and wind is demonstrated by the flowing of figures clothing.
The unique style of Mstera is known for it's colored backgrounds, and painted skies. The bodies of the figures aren't as long, and the hills are much smoother in look. Another significant difference from Palekh, is that the trees in the background take a much more realistic form. Gold paint is rarely used and when it is it is only for ornament. The typical color scheme is that of pastels. The noted classic look of the Mstera style is that the picture is surrounded with a thin gold line and often it looks to be placed "inside" the black and gold frame.
The last of these exceptional styles of Russian art work is that of the Kholui. This style was the last to evolve and wasn't until 1959 was it finally acknowledged as a style. The Kholui style is must more realistic than that of the Palekh, and Mstera. These artisans were known to be much more experimental with creativity. The style is known for its use of stylized swirling, and circular forms found in the details of clouds, water and snow. Just like the Palekh, and Mstera styles, tempera paint is used with a preference for yellows, reds and browns. The strong contrast of cold and warm hues lend the work to have a much more vibrancy tone than the other styles. Kholui is also the one village known to produce coveted red lacquer boxes regularly. The bodies of the figures depicted were less iconic and much more realistic, thus parting from the Byzantine art form and grasping the more westernized techniques.
With the fall of Communism more and more priceless ancient artifacts are being discovered continuously. One can't help but wonder at what discoveries from the past centuries have yet to have been found.
Kubilius, Kerry (2009). Russian Icons Though History. Retrieved on May 22nd, 2009
From Suite 101.
"Mstera Lacquer Boxes." n.d. Retrieved on May 25th, 2009 from Russian American Company
"Russian Lacquer Boxes." n.d. Retrieved on May 25th, 2009 from Russian Lacquer Boxes
"Palekh" (1999) Retrieved on May 25th, 2009 from Black Lacquers Co - Operative, Russia