The following text is the short English summary included in the Russian language book Russian Enamel Miniatures of the 18th and 19th Centuries by G.N. Komelova, from Iskusstvo Publishers, St. Petersburg (336 pages). Although not lacquer art at all, enamel miniature painting sprung up from the same roots as the 19th century paper-mache articles. Both of these in turn helped to mold modern-day lacquer art. Those intrigued by lacquer miniature may find historical enamel painting of some interest, so we have posted the English text from the book here.
Russian easel miniatures, done in the technique of painted enamel alone as well as miniatures on the whole, are one of the least studied branches in the history of Russian art.
Beginning in the late eighteenth century, it quickly became widespread and by the turn of the nineteenth century it had already begun to flourish. This came about due to some major social and historical changes in the life of Russia as well as by sharply altered principles of Russian culture, characterized then by the transition from religious to new secular trends. Increasing interest in man personality and its great significance manifested itself in the formation of the portraiture genre. Miniatures closely connected with painting, the great influence of which can be seen both in subjects and stylistic tendencies, gained the status of a fully separate art form and began to play a significant role in the history of art.
Brightness, clarity of colors, rich palette, relative longevity of miniature objects due to their stability to light, air and time and their ability to maintain brilliance and freshness for years largely determined the exceptional attention paid to the enamel miniatures both by artists and prospective buyers of a work.
While there are numerous works on West European miniatures, Russian enamel miniatures had been until recently out of view of researchers and even today literature on this subject is very scarce (the only examples that can be provided are the article by N. Vrangel published in the magazine "The Old Years" in 1909 and few publications by contemporary authors, such as V. Suslov, A. Karev and G. Komelova). There is no special review of Russian miniatures. Information about masters of this art form contained in various articles is very contradictory and sometimes far from being reliable.
This book concerns the formation, evolution and period of flourishing of Russian secular enamel miniatures. It also studies the creative work of artists, sikijsky, Andrei Ovsov, Andrei Cherny (Chernov), Dmitry Yevreinov, Piotr Zharkov, and Piotr Rossi, preserved works of whom may be regarded as the pride of the collections of many museums worldwide. Lesser known and in many cases unpublished document materials are widely used by the author. Works of Russian masters of enamel miniature art found in the museums and in private collections both in our country and abroad (France, USA, Great Britain, Switzerland and Sweden) are thoroughly studied. The short introduction, comprised a historical review of the development of Russian enamel art of eighteenth to early nineteenth century, highlights its close connections with other art forms and stylistic tendencies of that historical period. One chapter is devoted to the history of academic class on the technique if enamel decoration in The St. Petersburg Academy of Arts and to the works of its pupils. Then the reader is offered a number of articles concerning work of the most skillful masters of enamel art.
Market with special originality works of the first Russian masters, Gregory Musikijsky and Andrei Ovsov who worked in a technique of enamel miniature, have all characteristic features of Russian art in the era of Peter I (the first quarter of the eighteenth century). These features can be traced not only in the masters' turning to miniature portraiture including new for Russian art of that time, group portraiture (for example, Family Portrait of Peter I by G. Musikijsky), but also in wide thematic range and close connections (particularly in chromatic scale search) with works of Moscow and Veliky Ustiug enamel masters who were already well-known in the seventeenth century. Scarcely known are masterpieces of Michael Lopov and Philip Mosyagin, who worked during 1740-1750's and discovered works of whom (both portraits and religious compositions), enable to fill in one of the gaps in the history of Russian enamel miniatures of the second third of the eighteenth century.
Works of such a talented master as Andrei Cherny opens a remarkable page in the history of enamel miniature art of the latter half of the eighteenth century. His previously unknown signed works (portraits of the Orlov brothers, Cathrine II and others) noteworthy for brilliant skill and refined range of colors allow to put his name among the greatest artists of the eighteenth century. Works of Piotr Zharkov and Dmitry Yevreinov belong to the second half of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. Both masters were closely connected with The St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. So Zharkov since 1779 had been the head of the class in miniature painting and from 1790 onwards, directed newly organized the filigree enamel class. The fact if organization of such classes witnessed the increasing popularity and recognition of miniature art. It was during these years that a number of works on miniature art technique were published.
Among the works by Zharkov there are miniature reproductions of the originals of European artists (Gvido Reni, Dominikino and others) as well as the portraits of Peter I and Cathrine II, noteworthy for their high artistic quality and color harmony. In the heritage of Yevreinov besides portrait works (for example, portraits of the President of the Academy of Arts count Alexander Stroganov, Emperor Paul I and refined portrait of Elizaveta Alexeiyevna, wife of the Emperor Alexander I) there are four large miniatures decorating the tabernacle in the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg including a copy of The Transformation by Raphael. Although these works are obviously reproductions, artists practicing in the technique of enamel miniature tried to be creative. Thus sometimes they changed to a certain extent both composition and color scheme. In other words, they created new masterpieces, possessing original artistic qualities.
One of the latest great masters, who turned to enamel and bone miniatures, was Piotr Rossi, who practiced in the beginning of the nineteenth century. His works remarkable not only for the virtuosity and brilliant coloring, but for highlighting strong features of the model, have survived in very small numbers.
The last chapter of the book deals with connections between Russian and European miniatures, which developed along similar lines and in accordance with the same stylistic principles. Here the works of a number of European miniature masters, worked in Russia and exerted a definite influence on the development of enamel miniature art are studied. Among them are Boutellier, C. de Mailly, N. Soret and others. The end of the first third of the nineteenth century witnessed a decline in miniature art. A short period of flourishing at the turn of the twentieth century, connected with the development of Modern style as well as the use of miniatures for decoration for decoration of gold and silver objects at the greatest Russian jewelry firms of Pavel Ovvhinnikov, Ivan Khlebnikov, Carl Faberge was again left behind. At that time miniature art as an independent art form ceased to exit. But at present a tendency towards restoration of both enamel art on the whole and enamel miniature itself is evident. Noteworthy is some of miniature portraits produced by masters in Rostov, an ancient center of Russian enamel art.
Restoration of enamel art is being promoted by exhibitions organized in some European cities, for instance, in Limoges in France among the participants of which were enamel miniature masters from our country. On the whole this book introduces a wide range of readers to one of the most exiting and little studied branches of Russian art and to its greatest masters and their priceless works.