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Decorative Uses Of Russian Textiles

By Marian Garner

In the modern use of old brocades, damasks and velvets for picture frames, desk appointments, cigarette boxes and match cases, there is to be seen one of the happiest adaptations of an art for purposes other than that for which it was originally designed. The fact that many of these old fabrics have survived in fragments of garments, vestments, upholstery, of which only parts are in good condition, makes it seem by no means a sacrilege to cut them up and apply them to the frames of pictures or to weaver of past centuries which otherwise might he relegated to the dark of the storage vault.

Many of the beautiful old velvets and brocades used for the subjects illustrated were originally in priests' vestments. They are woven in the patterns and according to the weaving techniques of western Europe. Italy and France led the way in the creation of magnificent textiles. When in the eighteenth century Peter the Great introduced so many western arts into Russia, he saw to it that French and Italian weavers were invited into the country as well. There was an important factory in St. Petersburg where the finest type of velvets and brocades were woven. Also as early as 1716 a tapestry factory was established, the work being done by weavers and dyers from the Gobelina in France, who came to Russia with the architect Le Blond. They were established at Ekaterinkhof, a suburb of St. Petersburg. Russian workers were trained by the Frenchmen and the work was finally carried on by Russians. The Imperial patronage of the textile factories was further extended during the reign of Anna I, neice of Peter the Great. and in the reign of Catherine II, a great variety of silks, brocades and velvets were being produced in Russia.

The Italian influence which was not so strong as the French, was brought into Russia through the Marco Ciocani factory in Moscow in the early eighteenth century. Here also Russians were trained and the factory was eventually taken over by Polikov-Lasarev and Sopozhnikov. The Russian textiles were not made for export but were used in Russia, and for that reason are not so well known outside the country.

After the Revolution a great number of magnificent priests' vestments, altar cloths and lectern covers were brought to the Winter Palace to be sorted for disposal. A great many of them were woven with gold and silver thread, and, in fact, contained so large an amount of the precious metal that it was decided many of these should be burned in order to reclaim the metal. Dr. Armand Hammer heard of this decision and was fortunately able to negotiate with the new government for the purchase of a large quantity. There were many undamaged garments and haugings, as well as a number of remnants of vestments and a large group of the handsome gold and silver galloons which were used as trimming. One does not find in these eighteenth century Russian textiles the so-called old Russian patterns. They are similar to the designs used in the rest of Europe. But although the textiles illustrated here show the French or Italian influence, textile manufacture has an old history in Russia, going back to the period of the Christian era. The earliest existing examples are of the first century, B.C., and are found in Crimean graves. They show Greek influence and present figures from Greek mythology. As Russia accepted Christianity from Byzantium, it is not strange that Byzantine art influenced all the Russian arts. The fabrics of the medieval period - how designs which recall those of the Byzantine metal worker, and they carry out the suggestion further by being embellished with jewels. Persian influence was also strong in shaping the character of design on Russian textiles. This remained in evidence until the sixteenth century when Russian nobles began to prefer the kinds of fabrics used in other European courts. During the reign of Ivan the Terrible the nobles dressed in cloth of gold and silver which was presumably woven in Russia. In the time of Peter the Great many importations of fine fabrics came into Russia, and the production of similar types was undertaken under his patronage, leading to the types illustrated.

A handsome example of Russian weaving is the velvet cope which illustrates the uses in the Imperial Chapel in the Feodorovski Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo. This is a voided velvet, to use the terminology of the Weaves of Hand Loom Fabrics by Nancy Andrews Reath. The foundation was a satin weave, while the design is worked in velvet pile, the colors being emerald green and sunflower yellow interspersed with threads of silver. The galloon bands are also enriched with pure metallic thread.

There were of course, magnificent textiles imported into Russia for the use of the Imperial court. French influence is strongly evident in the design of brocaded satin, that was used for articles such as purses, book covers, and frame covers.

Russian Textile

Fig. 2. In background, Italian cope, seventeenth century, from the Imperial Russian collection. Portfolio covered in shell pink satin brocade with blue and rose flowers. Russian work, showing French influence. The seal, in case, grants a patent of nobility to Captain Khluderev from the Empress Elizabeth I, dated 1718. Courtesy Hammer Galleries.

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