Daghestan decorative art Ceramics
Daghestan decorative art Ceramics
Ceramic crafts were in existence in Daghestan as early as ancient times. Pottery of various shapes coming from excavations in the Daghestan region enables to identify the principal methods of decoration in their development.
The earliest pottery of importance dating from 5000—6000 B.C.-was found near the village of Rugudja. Its heavily potted vessels made of clay mixed with particles of stone and hardened by fire are decorated with incised lines and holes in the upper part of the border.
Pottery from the Ginchin settlement (4000 B.C.) belongs to another group. The thinly potted vessels, hard fired, with a finely burnished surface are painted in red and brown. Red polished pottery with ornaments cut through slips of various colours were produced throughout Nagorny (Mountainous) Daghestan as late as 2000 B.C. The original methods of decoration used by potters of the next generations show the stability of local traditions.
The addition of separately moulded ornament, known as ‘applied’ ornament, came to Nagorny Daghestan by 3000—2000 B.C. The surface of the vessels was usually covered with a coat of raw clay.
The potter’s wheel was introduced in Daghestan in the first centuries A. D. Earthenware of various sorts—jugs, pitchers, dishes, lamps, and the like—were made. Most of them are distinguished by beauty and symmetry of form, with any kind of slip decoration usually incised. The wares were stamped with the name of the potter which testifies to a certain professionalism in pottery making; the same is confirmed by the appearance of sister vessels. The early moulds were comparatively simple and rather plain but later they became more complex and reached a superb quality in shape and ornamentation at the above-mentioned period. Typical of the Daghestan jug belonging to the same time is the solid ball-shaped body.
Small light red jugs with a mouth in the form of the swine’s head are common for Nagorny Daghestan in 100—300 A. D. The skilful potter modelled the animal with great exactness. The inlaid eyes and moulded basketwork complete the decoration of the vessel. These animal motifs tell us of totemism of the vessels.
Extensive use was made of pottery manufacturing at the beginning of the Middle Ages. The potter’s wheel became common; glazed pottery appeared. One of the earliest centre of turquoise pottery is the Lezgian village of Kala in South Daghestan. Its wares differed from others by the technique of manufacturing, as well as in form and decoration.
The vessels produced in the village of Kala were usually covered with a thick white slip, and the dark brown design was outlined with clay threads; then they were spread with a transparent glaze generally stained with copper to yeild a greenish colour. A small amount of the pottery preserved, for the most part, allows to follow the evolution of decoration. The early motifs are very plain: running spirals and radiating rays. Later the more complex floral motifs were effectively exploited, the pattern filling all the surface.
Pottery making at the village of Kala has ceased for ever as the result of the Tartar-Mongol invasion in the 15th century.
Just at that time the Kala traditions of bright underglaze painting were inherited by the potters of the village of Ispik situated nearby. The Ispik glazes are distinguished by their rich colour range, though in general they are purple red or brownish orange tinged with various greens; these green hues were achieved by mixing the transparent lead glaze with natural mineral dyes. Large ceramic dishes are executed in this technique. They are still in use and can be found in remote Avar aul villages.
The Ispik dishes are flat but large, with a broad border. They were made of white clay with a great quantity of stone particles added to it. A most advanced technique, formerly not met with in Daghestan, was to use wooden stamps on the broad border to impress the design of playing horses and mules, and flying fancy birds. Probably these animal motifs take their origin in the ancient cult of the horse which always played a significant role in the life of the people in Daghestan, with their primitive social order.
The animal motifs were supplemented with rosettes, granulation-like triangles and curlicues of vegetation. Sometimes human figures are also found there but they are rare in Islamic pottery, for there was a religious ban on these representations. The monochrome glaze covering the border of a vessel joins all components of the relief together, merging then into a sparkling stream of greens, purples and yellows on its deep bottom. The border of a dish is usually rimmed with a fine geometrical pattern rolled by the cog-wheel. It is of special interest that when the clay was still raw two holes were perforated in the base of a dish so as to hang it upon the wall: evidence of its decorative purpose. There was a certain tradition in the division of labour at the Lezgian potters: pottery modelling with the wheel was a male prerogative while painting was usually done by women.
Brush painting existed equally with relief decoration. It was common to cover a fired reddish- brown vessel with a coat of a white slip. At first the vessels were washed over with a white slip, and patterns were incised through it. Then they were covered with a transparent glaze tinged as a rule with green touches. Filling the incised outlines, it rendered the pattern very conspicuous.
The 18th—19th century Daghestan potters were responsible for a number of important technical innovations, the most influental of which was possibly the method of covering the natural terracotta of a vessel with white slip. Dim greenish stains or stripes can be discerned on the transparent lead glaze of a dish.
The first half of the 19th century is characterized by intricate decoration, abundance of patterns (usually symbolizing the ancient cult of the Sun), and by simple themes of decoration stylized in their own way. Of special interest is the dotted background joining all parts of the design together.
Pottery of the first half of the 20th century has left this type of painted ornamentation intact. Composition became richer due to female figures and Oriental buta motifs. In some instances the slip decor was partly left frosted, and the light-green opaque glaze covered the entire upper part of the vessel.
Most designs in Ispik pottery are geometric. While the potter’s disc rotated, the potter put horizontal white strokes on the surface of a vessel, covering the space between them with zigzags, diagonal touches and triangles. Solar star-like rosettes, wheels with spokes and radiating lines were added, too. These decorative motifs were widespread in wood carving, copper and stone engraving and other kinds of decorative applied art of Daghestan.
Fine pottery was made in Nagorny Daghestan. Toward the 8th century A.D. the chief centre of its production was firmly established at the Darghin village of Sulevkent. The Sulevkent potters specialized in large storage jars for trade centres of importance in Central and South Daghestan—Kumukh, Kuli, Kasumkent, etc., as well as in water holders and jugs for the neighbouring villages. The earliest known examples were vessels with the applied ornament—usually basketwork pattern, ripples and strokes. When the wheel was adopted and painted decoration became usual, the raised design survived but in a debased form, in a new shape. The old tradition of pottery fashioning is clearly seen in the form of the spout. Scratched waving lines of the design were also typical for the period. Even in the 17th century when this technique was fully replaced by painted decoration, the manner of putting the touches on the surface remained the same. Proportions, shape and applied ornamentation of the vessel are evidence to the continuity of traditions originated from the earliest pottery depicting the swine.
Modern Sulevkent potters use for the most part the ancient methods of decoration. The latter is proven by the simple design of straight and waving lines which were put on a vessel on the potter’s disc and combined together by S-shaped scrolls; ancient traditions are seen in the perfect modelling of pottery and in the taste for dark red slip decoration.
Glazing was extended in Sulevkent towards the 19th century and this technique was probably taken from South Daghestan where it was common. Glazed pottery to a great extent consisted of small jugs, deep dishes and tankards with the applied or scratched ornament. Green or dark brown glazes covered the whole surface of the ware.
Red polished pottery with the applied ornament was produced as long as the first centuries A.D. Early Balkhar pottery was similar to that of Sulevkent; variations appeared later; it was the introduction of the potter’s wheel that made all the difference. Vessels with the applied Tankard Lead glazeware with a ornament, on the whole, gave place to light red slipware. Though plain and archaic, the decorative motifs of the early period have some features peculiar to later pottery. The main pattern was elaborated in outline, filled with fine brush strokes, as well as with strokes scratched into the raw clay before firing; the sculptural ornament decorated only the mouth and girdles of the vessel’s body.
In the 17th and 18th centuries pottery manufactures increase and the village of Balkhar becomes an important centre of production. The ware was widely known not only in the Avar, and while with the applied ornament. nk work Irom the village ol Balkhar.
Lak and Lezgian districts, but also reached Transcaucasia and was brought to the North Kumyk century regions.
The shape of the Balkhar pottery became more elaborated, new methods of decoration appeared. Colours varied from dark brown to orange, the surface was finely polished. In the late 19th and the early 20th century Balkhar pottery was made in large quantities. Painting in white was predominant. It was this type of the Balkhar jug that reached our days. Modern potters frequently use the ancient raised pattern bearing human and animal images. The upper part of the spout is usually applied with eyes, the strokes imitate a moustache, and the ornament on the low part of the mouth resembles a necklace.
Now and then the front part of the vessel has a raised ornament showing the head of a deer or Water-carrier. Fumed and polished of a human being. Balkhar pottery numbers some thirty specimens made for various purposes red-and-white siipware with the applied ornament. Lak work from the which differ in shape and design. The finely elaborated pattern on milk and vessels put a stress to their forms.
Their interior decoration is usually divided into four sections linked together by various motifs. Such a dish is frequently modelled in the form of a deep bowl on a base, or three-legged. The applied ornament is now seldom used.
A large early centre of pottery making was the remote Tabasaran village of Djuli. Fragmentary earthenware decorated with coloured glazes, remains of the kilns, etc., were found there in
abundance. It is not yet clear why and when glazeware manufacturing in Djuli has ceased, but pottery making is still going on among the population. A graceful shape and a restrained decoration in dark purple are characteristic of Djuli pottery (basins, pitchers, jugs, and the like).
Archaeological finds dating from about 2000 B.C. contain carved images served for ancestor worship as well as tomb figures. Agriculture and cattle breeding in primitive society formed basis for the cult of fertility which was represented in female clay figurines. The cult of domestic animals (bulls, cows and swines) was reproduced in carvings, too. Horns of a bull were usually hung over the entrance of their dwellings and were fixed in the threshold and below the hearth. Later the cult of the horse appeared. Century after century followed, and one religion was substituted by another; paganism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Islam, relief decoration and the applied ornament remained the same. Ancient traditions are found not only in pottery with the applied ornament, but also in small carvings. All these carvings are children’s toys which, according to the old Balkhar potters, were produced at all times. The most usual is the horse, the universal toy for boys. Small and big, with khurdjin bags and packs, with a rider or unsaddled, the horses are distinguished by a wide variety of decorative methods. The light coloured pattern which embellishes the buff surface of the figures shows a high decorative technique made possible only by life-long experience through inherited traditions. The methods of decorating toys are similar to those of pottery. We find the same waving “snake” pattern, as well as those of the “tooth” and the “partridge”, though strokes, spirals and starlets predominate. Due to the complicated shape of the figures, the simplest decoration looks equally bold and elegant.
Quite a new decorative theme with animal motifs is illustrated, for instance, by the integral and generalized composition of a woman riding a donkey. The characteristics of the domestic animals (cows, a kid) are usually executed with great exactness. A special group of figures represents the personages of Lak folk tales. These women artists revealed their talent by making curious fantastic beings, some with paws of wild animals, some with birds’ wings and human heads.
The small earthenware carvings produced in the village of Balkhar testify to their versatility and show the rich creative resources of the Lak master craftsmen.
The folklore associates the beginnings of the ceramic craft in the Lak village of Balkhar with the making of toys. In the olden times, the story goes, in a shack in the village’s upper section there lived a man named Kalkuchi. Like all villagers he was poor, as the land yielded poor crops and the highlanders practiced no crafts. In some villages they would breed lots of sheep and weave rugs out of the wool and knit socks and make felts. In others where wood was plentiful, they would deftly carve utensils and grain-bins. “What am I to begin with?” thought Kalkuchi sitting on the bank of a lake, when his gaze fell on the clayey beach where children were making toy figures of birds, horses and men. Nowhere was the clay nearly so fatty and viscous as on this lake. And Kalkuchi got down to business: he made a hard circle out of the nut wood, stocked himself with clay and water and began making bowls and jars. After baking he took his merchandize to far-off highland villages and sold it at a good price. Shortly afterwards all villagers learned to make first simple, and then decorated pottery. Thus the whole village came to feed on the craft of potting.