6 Favorite Arts and Handicrafts from Russia’s Golden Ring
Russia‘s Golden Ring is a modern name given to the ancient towns that form an elliptical circle to the north and east of Moscow. This is where Russian art, architecture and culture began. The historic Golden Ring is celebrated for graceful old churches, famous frescoes and traditional craftsmanship.
Here are some of the crafts that made these little towns famous:
1. Matrioshka Dolls
The nesting dolls thought of as quintessentially Russian may have been based on a Japanese design, and have not been around for much more than a century. Meaning “little mother,” matrioshki are painted hollow forms that come apart to reveal a series of smaller dolls nested inside.
First created in Sergiev Posad in the late 19th century, the dolls became world famous after one was displayed at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900. They come in even-numbered sets of 2 to 24 (where the smallest one is about the size of a peanut), and are hand-painted.
If you have ever made friends in Russia, you may own a piece or two of this ubiquitous handicraft, as it is often given as a gift. Khokloma consists of carved or turned wooden tableware and utensils that are painted in some combination of red, gold and black with a technique that makes them appear gilded. Usually made from birch or linden, the wooden pieces are first covered with a clay, linseed oil and aluminum solution, then fired, painted and varnished.
The Kovernino district in the Nizhni Novgorod oblast is celebrated as the place where the style originated in the 17th century.
3. Lacquer Boxes
In the late 18th century when the dipping of snuff became popular in Russia, inexpensive snuffboxes were in demand, and several factories in Fedoskino, began turning out boxes made of papier-mâché.
The primed boxes were perfect as bases for lacquer miniatures, an art that was perfected here and in the towns of Palekh, Kholui and Mstera around Moscow and St. Petersburg. Fedoskino boxes and miniatures are usually painted in a realistic style, and use a multi-layered combination of transparent and opaque materials, sometimes incorporating gold leaf, silver foil or metal powder.
4. Gzhel Porcelain
Gzhel is a cluster of villages outside of Moscow that produces the beautiful blue and white porcelain that bears its name. The clay from the area turns a clean white when fired, and craftspeople paint the resulting pieces by hand. Wares include kvassniks, small pitchers for pouring kvass, shaped like a doughnut with a spout, figurines, jugs, candlesticks and tableware, all in white with the typical blue brushstrokes.
Gzhel was first mentioned in Russian history in the 14th century, but it was not until the 18th century, when the area’s artisans learned to make majolica, the painted and glazed ceramics pioneered in Spain, that Gzhel china became well known.
5. Rostov Enamel Painting
Enamel paining began in Rostov in the mid 18th century. At first artisans decorated only sacred objects for local churches, but soon began to include secular items such as plates and plaques.
Rostov’s Enamel Museum shows the evolution of this art, including its decline during Soviet times and revival during the 1960s, when young enamel factory workers began using the technique to make jewelry.
6. Zhostovo Painted Trays
The first lacquered metal trays were created in Zhostovo in 1807, after the demand for trays took off in response to the growth of nearby towns with their hotels and restaurants. It took three craftsmen to produce each tray – a smith to fabricate the tray, a worker who covered the tray with its foundation layer of bronze or aluminum dust, and an artist, who would decorate the tray with paintings of flowers or scenes from nature.
Travel to Russia’s Golden Ring with MIR
Experience the Golden Ring
Explore the Golden Ring on the MIR’s classic small group tour: Russia’s Imperial Capitals & Ancient Villages.
MIR has more than 30 years of travel experience to Russia, with affiliate offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Siberia offering on-the-ground support, and tour managers that clients rave about. MIR’s full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
More Photos and Information
(Top photo: Fedoskino, in the Golden Ring, is home to several small factories producing traditional hand-painted Russian lacquer boxes. Photo credit: Tatiana Timoshuk)
PUBLISHED: July 15, 2015