Summarized briefly, miniature painting is a form of painting that is deeply rooted in a great deal of cultures and spans centuries. Miniature painting is a traditionalisti style of art that is very detailed, often referred to as painting or working “in miniature”. Because of their roots as illuminations, they are likewise painted to have as smooth of a surface as possible.
In spite of the fact that the church demanded to fulfill precisely each factor of icon, Palekh artists did it in their own manner of writing faces, figures, elements of landscape, buildings, carriages and so on. On the icons you could see a great deal of domestic details such as furniture, clothes, arms, horse harness. Some of them have been held in todays Palekh miniature art painting more or less changed creatively.
Palekh painting wasn’t born accidentally. It was a result of century-old traditions in new historical conditions based on the cognition of icon-painting handicraft of a lot of generations. Their methods were rich and varied. From the very beginning Palekh artists had been studying and keeping old Russian art traditions. Therefore at an icon and a product executed in the spirit of palekh miniature have much common. After the 1917 Revolution, when the icon business went into the deepest of declines, Palekh pros tried their hands at embellishing art wood tableware, kitchen utensils, toys, dishes, porcelain and glass. As it turned out, the most interesting way was the painting of paper-mache boxes that became the black-lacquered miniature.
The varnish miniature is executed by tempera paint on a papier-mache. Colour of palekh painting is based on a combining of three colours – red, yellow and green. The Palekh miniatures normally represent characters from real life, literary works, fairy tales, bylinas, and songs. They are painted with local bright paints over the black background and are known for their delicate and smooth design, abundance of golden shading, and precise silhouettes of flattened figures, which many times cover the surface of the lids and sides of the articles completely. Poetic magic of the Palekh characters, decorativeness of landscapes and architecture, and elongated proportions of the figures go back to the icon-painting traditions. The miniatures are commonly set off with a elaborated pattern made with gold dissolved in aqua regia.
Palekh lacquered miniatures are painted on articles – caskets and boxes, brooches and hairpins for ties, a panel and ashtrays and great number of other little things made of papier-mache.
The articles are now ready to be handed to the artists. The work of the artisan begins with preparation of the paint. In Palekh the paints are mixed with egg emulsion. The yolk, separated from the white, is returned to the shell where a mixture of water and vinegar is added. Then the emulsion is stirred with a particular brush. Before painting the article, the artisan draws on the design. Then the composition is outlined in white lead with a very fine squirrel brush and the colours are then applied in rigorous succession. The work of the miniature painter requires not only originative inspiration, but also uttermost care and precision which is why Palekh painters often make use of a magnifying glass. When the painting is over, the artisan begins the gold work. The gold will have to be polished to give it the necessary shine. After having signed the article the artisan coats it by transparent oil varnish and polish by hand.
The village of Palekh is located in 65 km to the east from Ivanovo town on the bank of the Paleshka-river, which flows amongst the hills covered by leaf-bearing forests. In the 15th century it was a percentage of the Vladimir Susdal lands and was one of the firstborn ancient centers of the icon art. In the 17th and 18th centuries Palekh’s craftsmen rose to become the most famous in all of icon art. They devised a distinguishable style identifiably distinguished by the fine line tempera drawing completely filled with gold of their own. These art works were valued for the depth of the images, the subtlety of color placement, their intricate and minute attention to detail as much as for their fairy-tale-like ornamental design. Palekh artists are universally regarded as the most highly trained of the Russian miniature painters. The discipline and masterful technique of the ancient art of icon painting is readily seen in works of the respective artists. It is amazing that what started out as a unfeigned folk tradition over hundreds years ago is still thriving and remains fundamentally unfeigned to it is roots, even though on a more organized scale.
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