Russian Bone-carving

Russian Bone-carving
Needle-case in the form of a locomotive. 1840s.

Russian Bone-carving in 18th and 19th centures

The traditions of bone-carving in Russia go back to medieval times. This is proved by numerous artefacts unearthed by archaeologists in Staraya Ladoga, Novgorod and other places. Whereas our knowledge of early Russian bone-carving comes only from those isolated objects which have survived, more ample information is available about craftsmen and their output from the 17th century onwards. Many items carved from walrus tusk and ivory have come down to the present day.

Russian Bone-carving
Monument to Minin and Pozharsky. Table sculpture. By A. Korzhavin. Early 19 th century.

The most famous bone-carving centre is Kholmogory at the mouth of the Northern Dvina, in the Archangel Region. In the 17th century Kholmogory craftsmen were often invited to Moscow to fulfil commissions of the tsar and the nobility. In the 18th century and later local craftsmen used to go to St Petersburg, stayed there for several years and then returned to their northern homeland. Their work was stylistically akin to the whole of Russian folk art. They produced caskets, boxes, censers, and goblets decorated with plant, floral and avian designs, allegoric com positions, portraits with symbols and emblemata, and intricate shell-like curlicues intermingled with flowers, tender blades of glass with insets of genre scenes or human figures. In the 19th century, with its predilection for classical forms and ornaments, a surprisingly elegant style of bone- carving was evolved. Among the many gifted craftsmen of Northern Russia the names of O. Dudin and N. Vereshchagin deserve particular mention. These were active in the 18th century and together with other known masters working at the same time or somewhat later preserved and enriched the traditions of bone-carving by relaying their experience to succeeding generations. This art continues to develop in our time.

Russian Bone-carving
Penknives. Late 18 th-early 19 th centures

The production of lathe-turned bone articles was concentrated in St Petersburg. This was the art of the privileged classes. Peter I himself helped organize a turner’s workshop at the court which was headed by A. Nartov. Among its output were bone boxes decorated with relief or engraved patterns and motifs, as well as goblets and ornamented figurines. The most striking achievement of all was the exquisitely worked chandelier made with the participation of Peter I in 1723. The fashion of bone-turning persisted throughout the 18th century. A great assortment of decorative items was produced by this technique. In the 19th century it was widely practiced by the Bronnikovs family in Viatka who specialized in making clocks of wood and bone.
The St Petersburg bone-carvers also enjoyed fame for their small statuary. Ya. Seriakov, for example, successfully worked on portraits of Ins contemporaries, most of which have survived to the present time.
In the renowned metal working centers of Pavlovo and Vorsma (Gorbatov District) — local smiths produced, as well as weapons, large numbers of scissors, candlesticks and knives. Vorsma craftsmen achieved high professional standards in the carving of bone penknife-handles, lending them the shape of human figures, animals and birds.
The rich deposits of mammoth tusk and the large-scale walrus trade in the Arctic Ocean were the main factors responsible for the flourishing of bone-carving in Yakutia. In the I9lh century Yakut caskets, combs and clock-stands were richly decorated with ingenious ornaments and scenes of everyday life. The art of bone-carving keeps flourishing in Soviet Yakutia.
I. Ukhanovd