Master of the Ustyug black mob
In the middle of the XVIII – the first half of the XIX century, the ancient Great Ustyug was famous for many products of its talented masters. In the city, in a factory opened in 1761 by local merchants Afanasiy and Stepan Popov, they made metal enameled dishes decorated with silver and gilded bronze pads. This dish of beauty forms, the gracefulness of the pattern of ornamental overlays was not inferior to the products of the fashionable and expensive porcelain in those days, imported from China and countries of Western Europe, as well as issued by the capital’s Imperial factory. “Business people” from Moscow and St. Petersburg, Siberia and the Urals willingly purchased Ustyug caskets, caskets equipped with cleverly arranged secret locks and a “musical battle”, upholstered in iron with a “frost-motif pattern”. Such caskets-boxes of Ustyug work were sold even to Iran, China, India.
But most of all in Russia were famous products of Ustyug masters-silversmiths engaged in black engraving. Veliky Ustyug masters were recognized as the best in the country. Veliky Ustyug engravers in silver in the XVIII century were able to make the necessary and elegant works of applied art, thinly conforming to the demands of the day, with the artistic trends of his time. They were well aware of the specificity of the Baroque style and at the same time carefully preserved the ancient traditions of the execution of silver black wares that originated in Russian art in the preceding centuries. Engraving on silver under the rabble on their works always favorably stood out on silver or gilded backgrounds, was well discernible even from afar, and nearby for a long time riveted the attention of the figure considering the drawing with the purity of performance of work, the richness of gradations of fine strokes, accuracy and virtuosity of their superimposition on the surface of a metal product.
Velikoustjuzhskie masters of blackening for silver tried to make each of their works interesting and entertaining, capable of causing admiration. They decorated the items with funny images of human figures, dressed in fashionable and elegant costumes, scenes with a lot of characters, motifs of allegories popular with contemporaries. Ustyug silver-engravers knew simple and simple in the sense of images, realistic in the manner of their execution, to shine through the spirit of the real fairy-tale, to present them not just as a sketch of an event from the surrounding “worldly” life, but as if happening in some happy and free from everyday cares of the world, in which there is peace and prosperity. Scenes of hunting, trips, feasts on the works of the Great-Tver blacksmiths’ works look, despite the exact reproduction of the features of the life of the XVIII century, truly fairy-tale events. And although many of these scenes are just copying from engravings, they are probably looked at on some Western European works of applied art, they are never perceived as handicrafts, “copies” made according to the template.
Since the second half of the XVIII century masters began to often decorate their products with images of the panorama of their native city, the most majestic monuments of its architecture. The works of applied art sold at fairs, in local and capital jewelry shops: cups, saltcellars, boxes, snuffboxes from silver were essentially the first in the modern sense of the souvenirs of great work. They reminded the buyer of the folk craftsmen of the distant northern city, proud of their native place, the beauty of its location and the type of buildings.
The heyday of the art of the Great-Tula masters was brilliant, but short in development. Already in the XIX century, in connection with the change in the road route linking St. Petersburg and Moscow to the Urals and Siberia, the city on Sukhona was left out of trade routes. Small workshops of local craftsmen-jewelers were, moreover, unable to withstand the competition of large metropolitan jewelry firms. The number of silversmiths in Veliky Ustyug during the XIX century has steadily decreased. In the middle of the century there were only two of them, and by the beginning of the 20th century, only one master possessed the secrets of the ancient art of targeting blacks for silver. This master was Mikhail Pavlovich Chirkov.
Chirkov was born in 1866 and lived 72 years. He was a grandson and disciple of Mikhail Ivanovich Koshkov, a famous jeweler who had a small workshop in Veliky Ustyug in the middle of the 19th century, and for a number of years occupied a post of a craft head in the city. Chirkov began to work independently from 1885. His works are now kept in the Veliky Ustyug regional museum of local lore, the Vologda regional museum of local lore, the Smolensk regional museum of local lore, the State Historical Museum and the Museum of Folk Art in Moscow.
Nowadays, Chirkov is known mainly not as a master performer of works in the technique of blackening in silver, but as the founder of the “Northern Black” artel, as a man who brought up the generation of the first Soviet jewelers who worked in Veliky Ustyug in the 30-40’s . He was a true patriot of the Motherland and refused to sell the secrets of his art in the 1920s to foreigners who had specially come to Veliky Ustyug for this. In 1929, under the guidance of Chirkov, a workshop for the manufacture of silver and black goods was opened. In this workshop, mostly engravers worked as girls. They adopted from Chirkov an ancient tradition of the art of the mob, the ability to decorate silver items with subtle various black patterns and images.
But if Chirkov’s contribution to the revival of the ancient fishery in Veliky Ustyug was recognized, then the master’s work itself, unfortunately, was not sufficiently appreciated and characterized art criticism as a phenomenon of art. All who wrote the old engraver usually noted only his adherence to the traditions of creativity of the XVIII-XIX centuries and spoke of Chirkov’s work as a very ordinary, not deserving of close attention. With this view, of course, you can not agree. Chirkov was not only the custodian of the precepts of the ancient craft, but also an able artist who was well aware of the difficult specificity of creating works of applied art.
An example of acceptable artistic execution of black engraved items for him were the works of the great Ustyug masters of the 18th and early 19th centuries – the pores of the recognized heyday of the local art of the silver mob. Such a propensity for the aesthetic views of Chirkov was largely determined by the very conditions of his life in Veliky Ustyug, where for many years he had been the sole guardian of the secrets of ancient black work, traditions of high craftsmanship.
Like masters of the early XIX century, Chirkov liked to decorate his products with images of the panorama of his native city and the most outstanding monuments of his architecture. He differently approached the solution of this problem, always subtly conforming to the very purpose of the product. On the small round silver plaques, suitable to be a brooch, elegant button, badge or cuff links, the master usually placed an image of one of the monuments of architecture of Veliky Ustyug. He performed this image always with great accuracy and thoroughness in working out the details of the drawing, creating a juicy black and shade engraving in which the main role was assigned to the silhouette of the object, perceived from afar by a beautiful black spot on the light metal surface. Sometimes, on the contrary, the silhouette of the monument became light, all its details were clearly drawn, and the background of the article was covered with a dense black color. It is likely that the model for such motifs decorations with the types of individual monuments were the master photographic cards with pictures of the sights of Velikiy Ustyug, issued in the beginning of XX century by the Russian branch of the Universal Postal Union. But Chirkov was not a blind copyist of photographs. He subordinated the composition of the image of the round surface of the silver plaque, chose the details necessary for its decoration and boldly refused all elements that contradicted the desired form, tried to relate the design of the monument of architecture to the motif of the ornamental frame laid along the edge of the product.
Most liked the Chirkov to decorate his works with a view of the majestic panorama of the Great Ustyug opening up to the view from the Sukhona River. In contrast to the modern products of the Severnaya Chern plant with a similar motif of black engraving, by the way, for some reason they are produced very rarely, the images on the works of Chirkov can in no way be qualified as souvenir-ethnographic, as a simplified reproduction of a real panorama of the city. Decorating the plane of a knife for a paper, ruler or bracelet with an engraving with a panorama of Veliky Ustyug, Chirkov created the appearance of an ancient fairy-tale city that was freely and beautifully stretched on a quaint hilly coast. It was a generalized image of the Russian old city, only superficially resembling Veliky Ustyug, akin to free commercial cities from Russian folk songs, imprinted on the popular prints, lovingly described in epics and fairy tales. The master did not try to accurately reproduce in such engravings the silhouette of every real building in Ustyug. He only emphasized and indicated in a panoramic form the basic relationships in the arrangement of the most remarkable buildings of the city, boldly violated in their figure their grouping in relation to the real location, subordinating everything to the rhythmic filling of the plane of the silver plate. Chirkov was well aware that in a piece of jewelry one can not always make the drawing line always the same regular, like a cutter driven by a mechanism, rather than by a human hand.
He skillfully changed the depth of the cuts on the surface of the metal, used for their application within the limits of one composition, different in thickness and shape of the cutter, and his prints therefore do not seem unlike many modern print items with black engraving mechanically soulless and impassive. A characteristic feature of Chirkov’s works has always been the unique individuality of each image motive, even if this motif was used by the master repeatedly.
Among the best works of Chirkov belongs a small silver plate “The Cow of the Sea”, made in the 1920s. It is stored in the collection of the Veliky Ustyug regional museum of local lore. The composition of this plate was created in the authentic traditions of Russian folk engraving of the XVIII-XIX centuries, with a subtle understanding of the fairy-tale basis of such folklore pictures, which was always inherent in the most interesting works of the Great-Tver black products of the flourishing time of the local fishery. The master engraved on the silver plate the traditional panorama of Veliky Ustyug from the side of Sukhona, and in the foreground he introduced two strange beasts – a fish and a “sea cow”, now completely extinct animal, several meters long and weighing several tons. The amusing scene of a meeting of two animals the master has concluded in a magnificent baroque frame. The black engraving on this plate is made thin and masterly. Her composition may well be used to decorate the lid of a casket or snuffbox, for a desktop panel or press for papers. Awarded in the manner of a completely realistic picture, it looks more fabulous and fantastic than the late works of the masters of the Northern Monsters, specially dedicated to the fairy tale theme (Russian epics, Pushkin’s tales, IA Krylov’s fables) or stylized as old Russian engravings with images of various fantastic sirinas, sailing ships, knights, horses.
Chirkov skillfully engraved under the mob for silverware and floral motifs. He liked to decorate small crafts with images of stylized herbs and flowers, well felt the significance of the silhouette in such ornamental compositions. Usually the master preferred to build a floral pattern on a solid black background, revealing the shapes and details of the ornament in various shades of blackness and depth, pierced in the thickness of silver strokes. Products made by Chirkov are always distinguished by elegant and thoughtful simplicity of form. They are convenient for use and serve as an elegant addition to the costume, they are not lost in the environment of other works of applied art. In each work of the master there is a high professional knowledge of the material, a harmonious combination of craft and genuine art. And this is not accidental: after all, every work of Mikhail Pavlovich Chirkov was created from beginning to end with his own hands. He created the form of the product himself, decorated it with an engraving, applied it to the mobile, gilded and polished it. And this was reflected in the high artistic experience of the school of succession.
Being able to compose beautiful and interesting motifs for engraving under the mob, Chirkov subtly felt the specificity of the pictorial language of the works of the past, but not always was at the same time a staunch defender of his positions in art. Under the influence of the artist-leader and some trends of the time, he sometimes changed his faithful artistic instincts, collective experience and took the path of easel solutions that brought a lot of losses to the art of folk art.
On the preservation of the traditions of the fine language in the art of blackening in the 40-50’s and did not think. The art of folk prints engraving, which in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, produced the work of local silversmiths – the blacksmiths of masters, at that time seemed to be the soil least suitable for the resurrection of the ancient craft. Chirkov willingly and lovingly passed on to his pupils all the secrets of silver engraving that he knew, but he did not impose his style of drawing on them, sincerely rejoiced at the individual successes of each student.
Master of the Ustyug black mob Mikhail Pavlovich Chirkov
Since 1935, the development of sketches for the artel “Northern Black” began to perform professional artist, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts, E. P. Shilnikovsky. The last years of his life, Chirkov had to work on Shilnikovsky’s sketches. As history has shown, this direction in the development of folk crafts was not fruitful.
Mikhail Pavlovich Chirkov brought up the generation of the first Soviet silver-engravers under the mob. His contribution to the art of Russian mob is still not fully appreciated.
Already from the middle of the 30s, the art of the masters of the artel “Severnaya Chern” became popular not only in the USSR, but also outside our homeland. Currently, the jewelry factory “Severnaya Chern” annually produces many different silver items decorated with black patterns and images. In recent years, in connection with the exacerbated interest in the folk tradition, in connection with the development of souvenirs, the jewelers of Severnaya Cherni, like the masters of other art crafts, are increasingly turning to the basics of national folk culture, creating works in the spirit of ancient Russian black goods. The original artistic heritage of the founder of the Severnaya Chern factory, Mikhail Pavlovich Chirkov, the last Great-Novgorodian blacksmith-engraver who worked according to the laws of Russian prints, should not be forgotten. The best works of the master, imbued with the spirit of folk fantasy, crafty-fairy-tale, can very well be replicated and released as examples worthy to bring real artistic joy to people today.