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Moscow bronze: here lives artist's soul

The Russian bronze art is an original and unique phenomenon. Russian bronze craftsmen started late but they quickly caught up with their European teachers and surprised them with achievements quite often. The pamphlet describing «The First public exhibition of Russian manufactured articles» held in Saint Petersburg in 1829, where "some bronze items" of Russian craftsmen were displayed, pointed out: «Here comes an end to the prejudice, which is hurting Russians' feeling since it is widely thought that Russians are unable to make anything excellent. To their shame, many admit that they bought Russian items in foreign shops for prices twice as high, believing that they were French- or British-made».

Today, secrets of ancient Russian craftsmen are not lost either. The proof is the activity of the НимбЪ (Nimbus) company, which is located near Moscow and which specializes in bronze art castings. The very name written and kept in Cyrillic speaks of its devotion to Russian traditions. The company's own rich experience allows it to work faithfully in the famous 'Russian style', which is well known and highly valued in many countries of the world.

This style did not emerge all of a sudden or at once. Castings were flourishing even in the so-called Kiev's Russia. When the ancient Russian capital fell under the Tartar Mongolian hordes in the 12th century, the country's trade and manufactories started moving to its northern regions, such as the Tverskoe and Muscovskoe princedoms, Velikhy Novgorod. Precisely there the production of artistic articles began thriving. As far back as 1342, Bishop of Novgorod Vasily in his desire to decorate Saint Sophia's Cathedral invited, "in the name of Boris", "craftsmen of the good" from Moscow.

With the rise of Moscow among Russian princedoms its dukes entrusted their casters with the task to master the skill of making cannons. Their production started in 1393. The cannon-making craftsmen were highly valued: besides their direct purpose cannons were regarded as an example of the high art and they amazed people by their rich decor and elegant carriages.

Ancient Moscow was also famous for bells of its numerous churches and monas-teries. Bells weighing something like 130 or 160 tons were being cast even in the first half of the 18th century. In those times the world-famous Czar Bell weighing 200 tons was made as well. Casting of bells decorated with images of Saints and Czars, ingenious ligature of church texts contributed a lot to perfecting the bronze art casting.

Reforms by Peter the Great, which drastically changed the State and the very principles of the Russian society, also affected very much the development of the bronze art. Rapidly gaining strength mining and metallurgical enterprises provided the country with enough metals of primary importance, including copper. The Russian culture was strongly influenced with arrivals of talented European architects, sculptors, artists, modelers, casters. This way the foundation was laid for establishing the national school of the bronze art.

During the years of Elizabeth the Great, in the mid-18th century, Russia became a powerful empire having quite an influence on Europe's affairs and refusing to yield even to royal France. The Petersburg Court was rivaling Versailles. The acute need for the country's own, Russian, bronze art craftsmen arose so as to replace imported French-made articles.

The «Russian bronze art» as an independent and original component of the national applied art emerged in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Since then this term, as art experts interpret it, has implied all the diversity of sculptural, applied and decorative bronze articles, which were made in Russia and which were mandatory attributes of interiors.

The first half of the 19th century was the time of bronze dominating interiors of palaces, nobility's estates and town houses. During this period there were 53 work-shops and factories of artistic bronze in Saint Petersburg. Moscow had considerably less, only 8 workshops, although the first one of them, Fisher's workshop, was opened as far back as the late 18th century.

The electrotype method developed by Russian physicist Boris Yakoby in 1839 allowed to reduce the cost of both the making of artistic bronze and the whole process of decorating articles with patinas as well as gilding. The technical progress stimulated the growth of production and its reorganization. Handicraft workshops were replaced by big enterprises with new equipment, technologies and qualified personnel.

Russian bronze craftsmen did not avoid fashionable trends, such as neo-baroque, neo-rococo, neo-classics. However, a special place was occupied by the 'Russian style' featuring national ornaments and topics. The 'office' sculptural plastics also became popular.

In the years between 1860 and 1880 patinas with the greenish and brown color shades were widely used in Russian artistic bronze along with galvanic gilding. More often than not this was the way of making articles of small sculptural plastics, which reproduced topics and images from the Russian history and folklore, scenes from peasants' life. The theme of hunting and animals as well as its variations became the ID card of the Russian style. The diversity of topics and images, perfect casting, engraving and patina-making made articles of the Russian artistic bronze widely known both in the country and abroad.

If Petersburg's bronze craftsmen specialized in making expensive items for shows and palaces, the Moscow ones preferred the cheaper, heartfelt and touching, 'alive' bronze items for the gentry of the middle and low ranks. That is why their products were distinguished not by their palace splendor but by craftsmen' high diligence that resulted in wonderful and colorful coziness of Moscow drawing rooms.

Today's bronze articles by the НимбЪ company have all these features. Its range of bronze and brass products is wide and diverse. Sculptures, basrelieves, miniature, icons and other samples of the applied art are simply magnificent. The delicate artistic taste and special elegancy are the distinctive features of such interior items as candlesticks, chandeliers, lamp-brackets, clocks, fireplace tools. The com-pany's craftsmen are also able to make various grates and staircase barriers. They are ready to manufacture any item by photograph or sketch provided by customer. And they will make it in any style and form, while designing artists will give their recommendations in this respect so as to be sure that the choice is right.

«We do not divide orders into being important and ordinary: they all are equally important to us. And we are doing our best in order to make this or that item as the only one of its kind», says Alexander Sedushkin, the director of the НимбЪ company. And, probably, here lies the secret of the special nature. That is the animateness inherent in the Moscow bronze.

Vladimir Potapov

EURASIAN METALS, No.5, 2004 »
ARTS & CRAFTS

 
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