Old Russian Pictorial Embroidery

Exquisite Old Russian pictorial embroidery

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Old Russian pictorial embroidery (aka "needle painting") is one of the Russian arts and crafts that developed under the direct influence of Byzantine and were widely spread in the Old Rus'. Unlike ornamental embroidery these works depicted "the face" and were made with the use of gold and silver threads, pearls, jewels and gems. The subject images of Russian pictorial embroidery are close to the artistic and figurative system of icons and frescos and are combined with liturgical and set-in inscriptions. At the same time pictorial embroidery has its own features, among them greater dependence on material, technology and functional purpose of an item than in other kinds of visual arts.

The largest collections of pictorial embroidery pieces are kept in the Moscow Kremlin Museums, in the Moscow History Museum, in the Russian Museum in St.Petersburg, in Sergiev-Posad and Novgorod museums.

Usually works of pictoriual embroidery consist of the central picture saints, scenes of their life, and evangelical or iconographic scenes a frame with similar images or ornamentation, with embrodiered liturgical and set-in inscriptions.

The faces were usually embroidered with fine silk of different shades of sand color, whereas clothes and all the other things were made in silk or silver and gold threads with use of different embroidery stitches. Sometimes thick linen or cotton fabric was underlaid to add relief. Quite often embroidery was decorated with jewels and pearls. For durability painted canvas was put under silk fabric and then lining was stitched to it.

The pictorial embroideries were quite complicated to create. Sometimes several artists worked on one and the same piece performing special funcitons of icon painters, and 'writers' who drew images, ornaments and inscriptions. A sample was first marked on paper, and then transferred to fabric. Sometimes it was drawn directly on fabric, and then marked on paper. For drawing they used ink, soot, whitewash, minium and other paints. The artists who drew samples for pictorial embroidery were usually professional icon painters, ornamentalists and calligraphers. Handicraftswomen overedged the fabric drawing with white threads, and then embroidered it.

Embroidering of church veils was considered godly activity. In every more or less rich house of Old Russia there were special light rooms intended for women's needlework. Up to fifty handicraftswomen could work in such a room under the head of the lady of the house. Russian convents were also famous for their pictorial embroidery.

Among embroideresses there were tsarinas and princesses, boyars and nuns, merchants' wives and common craftswomen. Embroidery was a labor-consuming and long process. The works of pictorial embroidery were presented to churches and monasteries. Veils, bannersand and entire embroidered iconostases accompanied various solemn processions and ceremonies, as well as military parades and campaigns. Embroidery monuments as valuable items were presented to representatives of clergy of other Orthodox Christian countries.

Sources: St. Alexis.ru
11 March, 2011