Decorative Metalwork in Daghestan
The art of decorative metalwork was developed early in Daghestan. Among the old-timers in Gotsatl the legend is still alive about the origination of the copper-chasing craft there. It says that eleven generations ago pottery was made in Gotsatl only of wood, so that red-hot stones had to be placed there in order to warm up water.
But once many captives were brought to the village and some of them were craftsmen but the Gotsatlians could not tell them among the crowd. Then the oldest villager said, shall know”, and told them to spread charcoal all along the narrow path leading to the village. The captives were told to go up the path and after they did so he examined their feet and said, True masters should know the price of coal. Those who have clean soles who did not crush the coal—they are the masters”. And the first master on the mount of Gotsatl was Ahkubek, then came Musa and many other masters who forged tin cauldrons. And five generations ago the Gotsatl craftsmen learned to tin copper cauldrons with a chased or engraved design. Archaeological finds in the plain around the Caspian Sea and on the sites of the Cherkeisky, Sigitlinsky, Verkhnegunibsky and other former settlements show that even at the late 3rd millennium B.C. and in the early 4th millennium B.C. Daghestan was familiar with bronze manufacturing. Bronze spear geads, axes, daggers and ornamental pieces are distinguished by a variety of forms and methods of decoration. Daghestan bronze statuettes of human beings and animals (originally amuletic bronzes that were buried with the dead) have survived in large numbers in the ancient Avar, Lak and Darghin settlements that tells us of notable bronzework centres existing in the Alpine areas of Daghestan as early as 1st millennium A.D.
The high level of the art and technical skill in making bronze statuettes, belt buckles with animal motifs and ornamental pieces affirms that gradually bronze making became an independent branch of industry.
In the 2nd millennium A.D. when the south regions of Daghestan were annexed to Caucasian Albania which consisted of an ancient union made up of twentysix mountaneers’ tribes, the art of founding shows large technical development. Not only in the making of weapons, but in the delicate ornaments of the goldsmith’s art did the mountaneers excel all others. Daghestan jewellers made gold ear-rings, bronze bracelets, temple rings (found in Tarkin, Khabadin and Urtsekin cemetery mounds).
Due to the great emphasis on different crafts and trade in Caucasian Albania, a series of notable industrial centres was created, the development of such centres of bronze-working industry as Zirigheran (Armourers’ Country), and the modern Kubachi naturally followed soon after.
During the Middle Ages Kubachi was widely known in Daghestan and abroad as a significant bronze-working centre where chain mails, coats of mail, swords and the like, were produced.
It was not until the 11th—13th centuries that the culminating stage in bronze casting was reached in Daghestan. The smiths were especially skilful in decorating the so-called “Albanian” bronze cauldrons. Ornamented in relief, the vessels were embellished with animals, birds, winged griffons, heraldic scenes with lions, riding warriors, etc. Such raised ornamentation probably takes its origin in the bronze cult figurines which were found in Nagorny Daghestan and in North Daghestan.
The earliest cauldron designs were nearly global in shape and lavishly adorned with relief pictures. Strips covered the seams between separately cast parts of the vessel. In more recent times cauldron designs dropped artistic subjects and their shape became more down-to-earth. Such cauldrons made a necessary untensil at large festive or ritual public meals.
No less ancient in its origin is cast lamp which continued into the early 20th century in its main function of a lantern. A felt or fabric wick heavily soaked with oil or petrol was inserted into its neck. The proportions of the lamp came close to antique ones. Not infrequently a chain was fastened to the medium section of the lamp to connect it with a metal stick for flame control. Sometimes the end of the chain was held in its beak by a bird, an image that can be traced down in the Moslem tradition to the pre-Moslem worship of the bird as a symbol of the sky and light. On its side the lamp had a laconic relief ornament which gave place after the mid-20th century to a engraved vegetation design.
Copper-chased ware constitutes an extensive group in Daghestanian metalware. In the 12th century widely famous centres of copper making were the Darghin village of Kubachi, the Mekh village of Kumukh and, in more recent times, the Avar village of Gotsatl. Chased utensils found extensive applications in any Daghestan settlement. This popularity of copper-chased articles is rooted in their practicability: they are easy to tin-coat or dress, or, if nccessary, to melt and forge anew; they were pleasing to an eye and, after all, large copperfields were quite near at hand—the quarries of Zangezur, Alaverdi and others. Notably, in villages like Kubachi the tradition of chasing goes down to the time of making armour and helmets although copper- chased pieces date mostly from the 18th—20th centuries.
Till the mid-19th century pottery was forged of copper slabs and it was not before regular trade relations were established with Russia that it began to be minted out of red copper sheets or brass.
The principal assortment of copper utensils included large water jars, ewers, little drinking mugs, kitchen utensils, such as all kinds of tin plates, bowls and cauldrons, as well as large mural dishes for decoration. Minted out of red, time-blackened copper with large, expressive relief, wall dishes made an ever-present component of the appointment of highlanders’ homes. By its composition the decor of a 18th-century Kubachi dish would follow the chasing tradition of Caucasian Albania, having a central “whirling” solar motif, a frieze with outstanding relief decoration elements and decoration details spread uniformly about the broad edge of the piece.
Water-carrying jars, the biggest item of the Kubachi forging, have an altogether uncommon shape which is so extraordinary that the legend of horrifying the enemy into believing them to be cannons seems to have a good point to it.
In common with almost all pieces of Daghestan applied art, this jar has many traits of an ancient, somewhat archaic art arising from the antropomorphic significance of objects. In the jar man’s figure is discernible—in its overall proportions, in the chasing pattern the upper, in-pour section which recalls clearly a human face, having “a nose” and “brows”, in the attached pieces of polished brass as if forming a necklace. Similar feminine decorations are common throughout Daghestan. The cover that fits into the sink of the jar resembles beyond mistake a head dress and is patterned after the turban-like tops of steles.
A Kubachi vessel, a replica of a pail, features an uncommonly original shape. In the past times it had ritual significance and was used at weddings until recently. Filled with flour, sereals or sugar, with numerous spoons stuck handles down, the pails were solemnly presented among the dowery. Forty days after the wedding their content was distributed among the co-villagers. When the bride was rich her dower comprised a pail filled with silver rings, bracelets, ear-rings and other precious knick-knacks.
The pail is placed usually on the top rack in the room and gives a indication of the host’s wellbeing. In most Kubachi households their number varies from four to ten. The vessel is always polished to the point of shining. A belief is still alive among Kubachinians that unpolished dishes attract evil ghosts while the shine scares them, so the housekeeper rubs the vessels with crushed charcoal with such zeal that most of them which date back to the former half of the 19th century are rubbed down to holes at prominent places.
The chief ornamentation motif, to be found on almost all vessels, recalls “little horse-shoes” united with a dotted pattern which forms semi-circles, starlets and girdles.
A much more variegated and ingenious is the ornament of a small kunne ewer. Its distinctive feature, a spout, has so uncommon a bend that it seems to be reverted. Such a bend of the spout permits to cast farther the flow of water and not to spill it when the jug that hangs by the handle on the chain of the fireplace assumes an inclined posture. A springy bend of the wavy stem with three-petal flowers entwining the vessel is adorned with chased “strings”; arc-like frill adds to the effect by reflecting light at the fracture of the form and the lid is crowned with the bird image. The bird image is quite common for Daghestanians and is everywhere associated with the notions of the sky, sun and nature. This sculpture is executed in casting techniques in a clay mould by the method of impression and is riveted to the cover sphere.
In contrast with the Kubachi copper-forgers who had in mind their home market, the copper craftsmen in the villages of Gotsatl and Ichichali were time-old suppliers of copperware not only to the Central and North Daghestan but also to the neighbouring Chechen-Ingush area. Art pieces produced in these villages comprise mainly 19th—20th century copper engraved jars.
Each Avar copperworker is skilled in manufacturing some ten to fifteen types of water-carrying jars and little jugs for washing and drinking.
Nearly each Avar village favours a particular shape or jars. In fact, an old-time well-versed in the “vogues” and customs of the locale needs a furtive glance at the jars in someone’s home to tell who and how long has been the family’s next of kin. In the villages of Ichichali, Argvani and Mekhelta people use extensively water-carrier of “chechen” design, featuring an unusually high base and the body that passes into a wide mouth. A large engraved vegetation pattern covers the upper part of the jar’s body. Evenly flowing stems resemble the ornament of Avar burial steles which have an undoubtedly longer historic record behind them than copper engraving has in these areas.
Different decorative patterns mark down the water-carrier design of the present-day Avar coppersmiths in Gotsatl. Of austere proportions and with a cylindrical neck having a few encircling straps and a spherical cover, the jar has a tray which is separated distinctly from a broad onion-shaped body. Forged out of thick copper, its flat handle grips the sink and lies down on the body in a light curve. In the middle it is somewhat flattened to hold the tape that fixes the jar when it is carried on the back.
The upper part of the body is chased with flattened forms which come close to kokoshniks (traditional Russian headdress) turned with their points down. Their planes were filled with engraved ornamentation including, besides vegetation, many ornamental elements that date back a great deal farther than the article they decorate. These are rosettes, discs, spirals and stars.
The images of the kind are still more common for small-size Avar ewers used as a wash-stand in everyday life in towns. Finely shaped, with a thin long neck and a spout-sink, the jug looks more diminutive and slender, compared with the water-carrier. A long and flowing bend of the spout permits to use the jug without raising it, simply by slightly tilting it. A high cover fits tightly into the sink part of the neck to prevent the spilling of water at an inclined position of the jug. The jug surface is adorned with indented rings, girdles and facets. Quite a few elements testify to the continuity of the wood-carving tradition which has wide popularity in the wooded western portion of Avaria. The engraved vegetation motif encircles the jug in a hoop-like fashion, attracting our attention to its front part. This type of a pattern characteristic to copperware in the late 19th and early 20th centuries takes its origin in a nielloed design on female ornamental pieces, such as bracelets, pendants and amulets.
The art of decorative silverwork dating from the Middle Ages is tightly connected with the tradition of bronze casting. Hoop-like twisted bracelets, temple-rings and men’s composite belts of the 6th and 7th centuries A.D. had long since the shape and size similar to the like, silver pieces of the 17th—19th centuries. In almost all Daghestan villages there were silversmiths who manufactured all concievable kinds of female trinketry, like belts, rings, latches, clasps, needle- holders, male belts and gazyrs (bullet holders). Silver pieces were made to order and constituted a sideline occupation to the main occupation of farming. At the same time the craft of silversmiths was handed down from one generation to another and required a professional skill.
Out of the surviving pieces, the most ancient ones were remarkable for their sculpture-like form and decoration. Ear-rings and bracelets were lavishly adorned with chasing, large-size graining and rich filigree, and carried the images of birds, horses and man. These decorations point out to the high sculptural skill and high standard of metal processing.
Niello pieces whose origination is commonly ascribed by archaeologists to the 12th—13th centuries boasted a highly graphical and ornamental execution. This trend continued into the 19th century when various embellishments were turned over in great number. They included casting, chasing, granulation, applied and lace filigree, ordinary and deep engraving, niello. The feature of Kubachi pieces is their subtle execution, most delicate engraving and a broad variety of vegetation motifs. A large number of steel stamps, with some elements chiselled out by hand, made it possible to vary infinitely the size and shape of pendants, artificial granulation and niello designs.
The articles produced by Kubachi craftsmen for use in the southern areas of Daghestan not infrequently made a play on contrasts. Thus, when the carrying part of an article was executed out of a flat texture with a simple filigree design, it was contrasted to a large semi-sphere or a conical form with the finest vegetation design ornamented with large-size granulation.
A popular decoration item in the Darghin and Tabasaran areas, a clasp-button fastening the garment near the collar became current in the early 19th century as the chief accentuating element. It was decorated with bright jewelry and had nearly the size of a human palm.
In stones priority was given to cornelians, corals and turquoise imported in quantity from the Near East, and the Arab, Persian and—more recently—Russian coins were used for pendants. Avar silver ornamental pieces were comparatively cheap, being made of lowstandard silver, massive in size and with abundant brazing that filled almost all cells of the fine filigree, and somewhat archaic decorative motifs. Niello was seldom or never applied there. And yet these articles captivated with the freshness of perception and acute feeling for plasticity.
Yet another large group in decoration is made up of articles to be sewn-on to headdress and outwear. Because the main decorative effect was achieved through niello designs these articles were made almost flat, with numerous pendants which seemed to be nearly weightless; the silver for “nielloing” was of a higher standard. Especially rich silver or niello decoration adorned holiday garments in the villages of Rugudja, Sogratl and Gamsutl. A broad variety of adornments with composite pendants linked with chains were sewn on by the dozen to the bright silk fabric of the costume. Stones made an exceptionally rare entry in the articles of that kind. The decorative impact of these pieces was due to a specific niello design, complex silhouette and very long chains made of infinitely variegated links.
The niello decor of the sewn-on trinketry was remote from the traditional vegetation ornament, a hall-mark of the silver trimming for arms. The key-motif of the design are large rosettes, septifoils like a palm branch, and long, broad, gently curved stems enframing the centre of the composition. These motifs deriving from ancient times survived only on the carved wooden props in the homes and granaries of highlanders in mountainous Avaria, and also on the steles in the same area.
The accepted silhouettes for these articles are triangles, circles, ovals, images of two-headed birds and horses.
In the early 20th century garments decoration came to be supplemented by various sown-on women’s buckles so numerous that they would hide completely sometimes the front of the garment with a massive heaving silver armour. Such costumes were especially popular in the Lak areas.
Besides ear-rings, Kubachinians were also fertile producers of seal-rings, bracelets and buckles. All these were lavishly decorated with massive colourful sham jewels, cornelians, turqouise and pearls.
In Kubachi bracelets, the sculptural trend in decoration was particularly pronounced. Even twisted bracelets whose origin goes down to familier archaeological sources received jewel- trimmed plastic edges. At the same time, twisted bracelets boast greater finesse in execution compared with copper pieces. The number of braids in the bracelet’s stem grows, interim twisted wires multiply and their width varies.
A characteristic of late 18th-early 19th century pieces was and abundant large-grain cover which extended beyond the bracelet base to include the bulging jewelled casts. Besides three to six larger casts, on the volumetric hollow bracelet base there were up to sixteen smaller casts covered just as densely with large-size granulation. Almost all wedding bracelets made at the period were fire-gilded. Earlier articles possessed an undetachable horse-shoe-like design, while more recent pieces were made up of two halves connected by a hinge and a lock. Other indication of the ancient age of bracelets, besides style characteristics, is a rubbed-down grain coating of an impressive size. It must be noted that the decorations of the kind were worn very seldom and, like other jewelry pieces, were passed on from mother to daughter, being a valuable family possession.
Unlike Darghins, 19th century-Avars favoured, besides twisted braceletes, flat ones adorned with niello designs, stones and grains. The foremost artistic principle was the stylistic unity of decorative elements. The curved hand of the bracelet was decorated with flat stones mostly cornelians. Granulation, then being stamped into small strips, was of some secondary importance in the decor of bracelet edges. The entire free space was covered with a vegetation pattern which had undergone a marked transformation. The surface received textural quality through application of a rather shallow zigzag engraving known as “ro-ro”.
The bracelet had small oberegi pendants carrying an image of bird, human hand, etc., suspended to its edges. Such bracelets were in use in the Avar villages of Nakitl, Urada, Tidib where they made an all-present attribute of female day-to-day costume.
In addition to ornamental pieces for local consumption by the craftsman’s co-villagers, number of other expensive and labour-consuming items were also manufactured for imports not only to many areas in Daghestan, but also beyond its limits—to Azerbaijan, Osetia and Chechen- Ingush area. Buckles were either made to order in the village or on many occasions were imported from outside. Silversmiths, mostly comedowns from Kubachi or Laks, had their forges in Derbent, Shemach, Grozny, Armavir and other larger towns.
Tiny workshops with appallingly primitive hardware turned out articles unsurpassed for their beauty and finesse. Weapons apart, these included large buckles or even entire belts made up of weighty massive links. These articles were intended for a wedding costume and, therefore, were richly decorated and quite often demonstrated all known techniques of silver decor.
The principle of buckle composition was permanent throughout and accentuated the functional significance of an object. The buckle was combined of two halves attached to a leather belt of broad tape. Right in its centre the buckle would have a bulging disk topped by a hemisphere, which protected the clasp. On its sides it was visibly supported by two semi-spheres of fine filigree with abundant granulation and colour stones. Bands of artificial granulation and twisted wires enframed all larger forms of the article. The pattern, composed of four-petal flowers, was executed in the customary chasing techniques.
But the craftsman’s chief concern was the niello design filling up the large lateral planes. The pattern of engraving followed the accepted early 19th-century style in the decoration of swords and daggers, and demonstrated a high professional skill. Sometimes the locks of the vegetation design were presented in small-relief techniques with a deep-chased contour on the niello surface. On other occasions a niello design stood out clearly and graphically against a light-silvery, slightly textured background. In part the craftsmen would apply gilding and in so doing demonstrated a fine taste, and they very often used ancient silver coins for pendants.
Unlike massive rectangular buckle designs common for the Southern regions of Daghestan and Trans-Caucasia was more inclined in the female holiday outwear on narrow but long buckles that ran round the waist.
The niello pattern was almost gone in these, except for lateral planes and bands accentuating schematically the overall direction of lines and contours of filigree designes.
The labour-consuming process of engraving gave place to a more handy and effective technique of set-in identical filigree elements.
Accordingly, labour in suchlike workshops came to be divided into filigree setters, fitters, etc. Stencils were applied by and large to accelerate the setting process. However, the composition remained essentially the same, having three chief accents: a semi-sphere against the background of a more or less generously decorated curved plane. Bright glass replaced stones, just as gilding ousted completely the colour of silver. To preserve the shining metallic background the filigree was not soldered and fixed to the back side of the plates with rivets. Little grains and locks were fitted together to form the silhouettes of crescents, circles, drop-like designs. The number of pins locking together the halves of the buckle was increased to two while the pendant-coins were replaced by finely executed and richly decorated pendants. It must be also noted that costume’s buckles would match into a single ensemble with chest clasps, headdress and other embellishments.
In Transcaucasia and North Caucasia belts for female wedding garment were in vogue. The belt was wholly collected out of ten or twelve links fastened with hinges. Such belts were made not only by Laks and Kubachinians, but by craftsmen in Armenia, Azerbaijan and North Caucasia, where from time immemorial they made a part of the national costume.
Enamelwork, the youngest of the Kubachi art techniques, produced by the early 20th century some pieces testifying to the high skill of Kubachi enamellers. Enamel was welcome of smaller items, like mouthpieces and ear-rings. Yet sometimes it was applied to decorate scabbards and handles of swords and, less often, the buckles of female wedding belts. In the latter case Kubachinians made use of hollow enamel, i.e. the background was first cut out and removed, and then filled with enamel. An engraved design, its facets glittering extends slightly over the surface and was ground to be flush with it.
Enamelwork, as can be seen from enamelled articles, is closely linked with filigree and engraving and calls for diversified aptitudes on the part of the enameller.
One other item of Daghestan craftsmanship known far beyond its borders was the weaponry from the villages of Kubachi, Kumukh, Kazanistchi (Darghin, Lak and Kumyk districts). Of these, Kubachi is renowned as the most ancient arms centre. The hamlet of Amuzgi near Kubachi was a supplier of sword, sabre and dagger blades while the other nearby village of Kharbuk ever since the 18th century produced fire-arms.
Amuzgi and Kharbuk armourers supplied their crude produce to Kubachi craftsmen for finish. After being treated by Kubachinians the arms demonstrated a high quality of technical execution and fine skill in decor. A niello design stood out in vivid contrast with the light silvery background of deep engraving. However, on such big objects as sabres a diminutive niello pattern could hardly be seen, so the master had to dismember the plane into a number of internal laps but kept intact the general decorative arrangement.
A high mastery ability was required in order to fix tight a gold thread in a thin plate of brittle ivory. No smaller mastery was required, too, for damascening a golden pattern on the blade made of the strongest steels from the Amuzgi forges.
Spectacular scabbards, in spite of their large size, were decorated from bottom to top with this precious metal in combination with various other techniques.
Kubachinians’ fine artistry showed up in trimming the handles and scabbards of daggers, the most popular weapon in the Caucasus. Sometimes silver enwrapped only the ends of scabbards, thus providing a contrast to the glossy black leather. The dagger’s handle made out of strong apricot wood or buffalo horn, was likewise metal-coated only in part. The master, when he set out to make dagger decoration, was particularly thorough and precise in working out the silvery face surface with deep chased-through engraving with small patches of niello motifs. Granulation, except perhaps for small strips, had little or no application, and neither had gold.
One other sheath type, same as a dagger handle, was wholly forged of silver. It was a small- size full-dress weapon. Till the end of the 19th century it retained its characteristic clarify in composition and logic in ornamentation.
The niello pattern branch” was best-suited for the lengthy plane of a dagger while deep engraving permitted to accentuate in the best possible way its plastic qualities.
It was not until the mid-19th century that the production of flint pistols had ended up in Daghestan. Executed by Kubachi or Lak armourers, the weapon was utterly spectacular, having a silver damascening and niello, and, primitive as it was, had a remarkable accuracy and shooting range.
The pistols dating from the early 18th century were executed in chasing and engraving techniques. An impressive relief pattern with a large number of diversified elements had its origin in the best traditions of 14th—15th century ornamental art, of which the so-called “Albanian” cast bronze cauldrons and stone steles are a brilliant example. The chasing pattern seemed to be supported and directed by long strips of stamped granulation.
Toward the mid-19th century the decor adds up in exhuberance. Engraving that previously covered the upper part of the steel barrel, was extended at that time to hide it almost completely with richly engraved silver mounting and generous gilding. The open part of the barrel and the lock were completely covered with golden damascening. Extensive use of gilding and less sophisticated ornamental pattern are a characteristic of the works of Lak copperworkers. While Kubachi craftsmen showed a propensity toward continuity in the art traditions the Laks were highly susceptible to novelty in art. What promoted this approach was that master-silversmiths were regularly “on the make” in many North-Caucasian towns where they made arms for Russian officers.
Daghestan craftsmen would make a habit of combining different techniques not only in arms trimming, but in other aerts as well. The contacts with Russia in the latel9th—early 20th century found expression in canes, ceramics, copperware, etc. Sometimes it was fairly big things, like boxes and cases. Following the 17th-century style, they were richly adorned with various precious materials, such as silver, gold-damascened or gold-engraved ivory, etc. The ubiquitous sumptuous vegetation design was essentially Kubachi in character. At the same time, overemphasis on some details of the design coupled with the lack of experience in producing sizable objects resulted
in some loss of the lapidary feeling.
The pieces that appeared in the 1950s had a complex silhouette, and demonstrated extreme diversity of techniques and materials. The shapes of most vessels followed the type, then current in the Near East, of a small ewer, though in details they were apparently influenced by the village of Kubachi. 1956
17th-18th century European chasing tradition well-familiar to Kubachinians from imported pottery which by hook or by crook made its way into their home collections. Lavishly adorned vessels carried a great deal of gilding, deep engraving and enamelling of intense colours. But along with high art in ornamentation, another observable trend in the 1950s was loss of the feel for a big integrate form.
The late 1950s witnessed to a recourse to the art traditions of the late 18th—early 19th century.
Engraved patterns would go side-by-side with the technique of chasing-through, which one commonly comes across in Kubachi brass seals for bread. In keeping with the accepted techniques of engraving and niello on silver the pattern was keyed down not only to the silhouette but to the internal qualities, such as light relief, contrasting black spots, etc.
The wish for varying the assortment of articles set in trend the manufacture of small objects, like powder-boxes, bottles for rose-water, trays, small vases. A new type of manufacture brought in artistic conceptions. The rose-water vessels had an extended drop-like shape and high narrow neck with tightly fitted cover. The small size invited the use of precious materials. Sometimes sawed-through ivory, previously never used, would appear in ornamentation.
In the mid-1950s attempts were made to take advantage of the shape of famous Kubachi vessels which had their source in the so-called “Albanian cauldrons” and were widely popular across Daghestan since time immemorial until now. The shape of the Kubachi vessel provided good opportunities for the lucrative disposition of decoration designs. The low conical lid was covered with radially running “branch” motifs. The lower part of cauldrons carried large brands engraved in high relief while the background was filled up uniformly with “thicket” ornamentation.
The examples of several specimens can help to follow changes in the composition and nature of decor. Thus, almost complete filling out of gilding and deep hollow engraving comes to be alternated with an even silver plane. A tracery-covered edge of cauldrons and sculpturally executed handles made a valuable adjunct to the decorative execution of vessels.
The shape of a large Kubachi water-carrier found application in smaller objects, one example being a pepper-box. It can be retrieved up to the last detail even though to a substantially reduced scale in these fine pieces. But each detail seemed to be replicated in its decorative variation. Graining strips became similar to rivets, the “branch” pattern substituted for spear-shaped chasing, engraved niello clearly recalled copper nielloed with doughnut shell (known in Daghestan long since as a very stable dyer). The dimensions of the elements of engraved patterns and fine technique accentuated the article’s finesse in execution.
In the early 1960s petty tracery was abandoned in favour of ornaments that could be read from afar. As a result, the silhouette became simpler and the surface previously glib and with numerous rosettes and brands, acquires a uniform ornamentation with a limited number of decorative elements. Even in a scent-bottle, a small object from the toilet set, the master thought it possible to give up diminutive patterning for the sake of light silvery engraving over a smooth polished background. Gilding was gone for good from ornamentation and was only present in the narrow bands on the facets and inner part of the vessel.
In the mid-1960s Kubachi jewellers took further steps toward stressing the decorative effect of niello designs. The simplicity and generality attained at the previous stage were further buttressed by the expressive silhouettes, individual ornamental details and their inward development. The master had no further use for deep engraving and chasing-through which worked for the visual destruction of planes.
The surface of articles seemed to be enwrapped in softly bending “thicket” stems, expressive and clear-cut, with a silvery background covered with the light texture of “ro-ro” engraving. The same softness in the absence of facets and sharp contrasts was a hall-mark of the shapes of lage of Gotsati. i960 objects in that period. It is also noteworthy that in the Kubachi pottery at that time there was a gradual shift of emphasis toward its decorative function. Therefore, from the mid-1960s onwards the predominant trend in Kubachi art became decorative vases of various dimensions, mural trays and plates.
On the round planes of large dishes a big flower marks down a clear-cut composition centre supported on the edges by petals and 44heads”. The well-defined silhouette of the 44Moscow” pattern was easily sighted from after, and as one came closer the eye took in the tiniest internal niello fillings of its individual details.
The craftsmen of the Avar village of Gotsatl, another centre of silverwork in Daghestan, turned out in the 19th century, besides arms and weapons, multiple silver trinkets which spread wide about the entire area of north-west Daghestan. This trend that was nearly extinct toward the end of the 19th century revived in the early 1960s. The emphasis in their produce was on silver- rimmed drinking horns while jewelry and pottery were a minor preoccupation. The Gotsatl craftsmen kept alive the best traditions of the Avar niello silver style.
The Avar niello ornamentation featured a remarkable simplicity, flowing lines and use of ancient solar motifs. The overwhelming majority of Avar articles had limited applications for the chasing-through of the background and deep engraving. Because trinkets were customarily sown on to the garment they had to be fairly thin, so the depth of Avar engraving compared with the Kubachi style differed accordingly. The same processing technique was applied to Gotsatl drinking horns whose niello design dates to far more ancient times than the objects themselves.
The custom of filling the background with niello is found in Kubachi, true, but a deal less often than in Avaria. For example, bracelets, broad and massive, have an impressive ornamental design of the “thicket” type enframed into a bright contour, with each element being subject in turn to fine internal ornamental processing. Although widely popular in the early 1960s, this decorative device has gone almost out of use today.
Good use is made of filigree in a desk powder-box. The position of the stem and details follows very precisely the “Moscow” scheme. An assimetrically curved stem with many off-shoots fills delicately the oval, somewhat prominent plane of the cover.
In this particular case the richly grained centre of the box seems to have a good point to it. The side of the powder-box is adorned with a modest niello design with rather shallow engraving. A number of wattled bands of artificial graining form a transitory motif. The gilded filigree goes well with the shining silver surface and graphical niello design.
Generally, in the late 1960s the Kubachi master-craftsmen showed renewed interest for the original form of an ancient copper-chased water-carrier. They developed into a large decorative vase, with many art techniques successfully applied for its execution. The large niello “thicket” nov^ Darghin^work from the village pattern alternates with narrow friezes adorned with bird images. A simple angular shape is accentuated at fractures both with large-size granulation and straps of twisted wire. The application of gilding is extremely limited.
It is noteworthy that although the traditional stable shape of the vessel hampered the search for new solutions, Kubachi metalworkers varied infinitely the engraved pattern of an object. granulation. Toward the end of the 1960s in the “goldsmiths’ aul” masters were quite many who possessed огкиьасы. 1965 a well-defined original manner in art. Participation in art exhibitions, including international displays, broadened the vision of the craftsmen. Characteristic of the Kubachi art now is a successfull search both in the area of fresh ornamentation and forms.
A wine set produced in 1968 demonstrates an original array of most variegated traditional techniques combined with new plastic solutions. Complex profiles, a by-feature of the 1960s style, are altogether gone, glib ornamentation is reduced to laconic forms while the shape of each object in the set is simple and dainty at a time.
Here, for the first time ever the method of oxidation of deep engraving with chasing was applied. Heavily oxidized frosted surface harmonizes well with the polished niello and emphasizes through contrast a high relief of the bright shining pattern. It offers a new view of the dark brands which constitute an organizing centre of composition in any piece of the set.
The tradition of filigree has proved of staying significance not only in jewelry but in pottery, too. Aware of the late 19th century tradition the master craftsmen apply filigree to the shining polished surfaces of pottery pieces and rivet it. A number of elements evidence to the continuity of the trend of Crasnoye Selo, Russia’s most ancient supplier of filigree. At the same time, overabundance of large granulation, both artificial and natural, is rather typical of North-Caucasian filigree articles. This similarity is further emphasized due to the gilding that covers the entire piece. However, the abundance of elements leads to oversaturation and loss of clear-cut form.
A novel decorative means was applied by Kubachi masters in the set for jam. All the three pieces, round and nearly globe-shaped, are covered with the44 Moscow” designs. The stems of the pattern are so thin that their movement can be perceived only by the direction of flowers and leaves. The flowers, buds and leaves are fairly big and engraved in a relief-like fashion while the background, smooth and polished, is made up of niello with a diminutive sprinkled-in design.
One of the summits of modern Kubachi art, a decorative vase is executed in a way that makes it a digression from the accepted Kubachi handicraft. Its body, protracted all along and onion- like, is covered with the cobweb of shining “branch” pattern with additional internal engraving. A low-fit chased-through background has a coating of dark grey frosted oxidation. The master has little use for the customary niello technique—it plays a part as a narrow enframing girdle.
Sweeping texture formed by relief engraving is further accentuated by the smooth neck and tray of the vase. The vase provides an exemplary case of using only one technique, without either granulation or gilding, to attain a topmost decorative effect.
In their latest works the leading Kubachi masters tend to turn for ideas to the decorative means and techniques of the past. The multicoloured enamel which first emerged in Kubachi in the mid-19th century and came to its own in the first quarter of the 20th century makes a common entry, in unique exhibitional pieces. Now the polychrome cloisonne enamel techniques are widely used for inserts and friezes in plates and bracelets. Unlike the colour range of the past, bright and at times nearly motley, the modern array of colours is based on grey-blue and dark purple. One other distinction of modern composition are larger ornamental elements and renewed emphasis on bird subjects. Kubachi enamel of all times showed preference for gilded metal and a background executed in black.
Attempts now being taken by individual craftsmen to create thematic compositions including landscape, architecture, inscriptions, deserve attention though the emphasis on portrayal has reduced in a large measure the decorative and ornamental impact of such pieces. Toward the end of the 1960s the search continued to find the best artistic solutions for print in combination with the Kubachi ornament. An obvious step-forward in this direction is the way figures and characters are designed in “ Jubileinaya” (Jubilee) vase. The outline of figures possesses ornamental quality and merges organically with the complex decoration pattern. Much the same qualities are found in the inscription on the lower part of the vase. In designing the figures and letters the master’s starting point were sayings in stone steles widespread across the Darghin area.
Other attraction of the vase is a new decorative technique in engraving the ornament. The locks of the stems are so large and so tightly fitted together that there is practically no background to speak of. Sumptious, steeply curling branches of a niello vegetation design intertwine with light, relief-engraved leaves and flowers. The entire ornamental arrangement of the vase lends weight to the statement of certain peculiar composition principles and decorative techniques emergent nowadays.