"Religion Transformed: The Christian Roots of a Secular Russian Craft," by Alli Mosco


"Religion Transformed: The Christian Roots of a Secular Russian Craft," by Alli Mosco

A modern staple of Russian identity in craft is the lacquer miniature. These crafts are typically small boxes, such as snuffboxes, powder boxes, and cigarette cases, which are covered in paper-mache and painted with miniature scenes of folk life, fairytales, and traditional songs. These crafts have been in production for nearly one hundred years, starting with the very early rise of communism and flourishing in the Soviet era.

The origins of these objects are important because they are rooted in another longstanding Russian tradition – Orthodox icon painting. The villages that now produce lacquer boxes once were known for their skills and techniques in painting figures of the Orthodox Church for hundreds of years. Of course, once the Church became a target of the communist age and Orthodox icons became obsolete, these villagers had to take the skills they had from icon painting and transfer them to the secular imagery of the lacquer miniatures.

The aim of my paper is to explore how deeply connected these two forms of art are. While they may be opposites in medium and subject matter, their connection is deeply rooted in the painterly style that stems from Byzantine Orthodox Christianity. Previous scholarship has only touched the surface on this connection. They may acknowledge the similarities in style, but they ignore the implications of using a Christian aesthetic in secular imagery. This scholarship also does not recognize the presence of Christian symbols and motifs apparent in many of these lacquer miniatures. St. George, a figure who appears in both icon paintings and in lacquer, will function as a case study to further demonstrate the way that religious imagery was appropriated to conform to secular, even Soviet, ideals.

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  • HAAARCH!!! 2015
  • Undergraduate Work