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Russian Lubok Prints

10 January 2014

Author : ivgheny-kosthin

Russian Lubok is a term described for 16th Century engravings or prints received on paper with a wooden cliche. Initially these prints were pictures in black-and-white, but later they went into more mass production and started to use colour.

Black-and-white prints were painted with hare pads by women in workshops near Moscow and Vladimir. Often such popular prints resembled childs drawing, inept, hasty, illogical on colour. However a man could already find among them many examples, which scientists consider especially valuable, arguing on innate colour sense of handicraftsmen, that allowed them to create absolutely unexpected, fresh combinations.

Why these images were named “lubok” is unknown however it is thought that it may have something to do with German popular prints cuted out on lime boards (and at that time the lime was called a bast), or maybe the reason was bast boxes, in which boards were sold, or, according to Moscows hearings of that time, everything begun on Lubyanka – the street , where lubok-masters lived.

Comic national pictures that were still sold at various marketplaces in the 17th century up to the beginning of 20th were considered as the most mass type of the fine arts of Russia. The attitude towards them wasn’t serious, as the upper class flatly refused to recognise Lubok images as important artworks but they thought that they was created by commoners, self-educated persons, often on gray paper, for the joy of peasant people. Certainly, then only a few people cared for cautious preservation of basten sheets.

Censorship also took place, proceedfrom both the clergy and the state authorities. Moscow Patriarch Joachim in 1674 forbade to buy sheets, that were printed by German heretics, Luther and Calvin “in theirs own accursed opinion.” According to the representatives of Church faces of the revered saints had to be painted on the boards, and prints were meant for “beauty”. The decree on March 20, 1721 forbade sale “on Spassky Bridge and in other Moscow places of engraving, which were printed willfully, except printing house”. In 1822 police censorship was entered. Some popular prints were forbidden, boards were destroyed. By the year of 1826 all prints were considered and subordinated by the censorship regulations.

The subjects of these popular prints were very diverse: it included religious and moral themes (images of icon type in the Byzantine style), folk and fantastic, historical and even the medical. The sheets were surely accompanied by the instructive or jocular text containing popular wisdom, humour, or even sometimes by skillfully disguised rigid political satire.

The technique of lubok changed eventually. In the 19th century drawing under the press began to carry out not on a tree, but on a metal that allowed to create more graceful works. The color scale of popular prints also changed becoming even brighter and richer. For a long time Lubok acted as a kind of spiritual food of the common working people, a source of knowledge and news as newspapers were in deficiency, and lubok was popular, cheap and was prevalent all over the country. By the end of the century Lubok prints as a creation practically exhausted itself, and was forced out by the factory press.

The Russian Lubok is a creation of unknown national masters. Roughly developing under a brand of lack of talent and the bad taste noted by highly educated part of the Russian society. Today Lubok prints have been recognised for a much more special value, and are now the subject of collecting and careful studying.

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