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This site includes reproductions of the most outstanding old wooden sculptures of Perm (In the Northwestern Urals) which represent an original sphere of 17th-19th-century Russian artistic culture. It had been inspired by old Russian artistic traditions and bears a pronounced influence of the Baroque and Clascisist styles of later periods.

The Kama River area which gave birth to this form of art has interesting artistic traditions to its credit and what is known as the Perm style of depicting bronze-cast animals developed there in the early Middle Ages. The area's indigenous population, Komi-Permyaks and Mansi, had a long-standing tradition of wood-carving for many centuries they had been worshipping their wood-carved idolatry. The habit of deifying these images was later on manifested in the people's attitude to religious sculptures of Christian iconography as well, which was reflected in the depiction of traditional images in wood-carved sculptures of Perm.

Old Russian artistic traditions can be traced most clearly in the images of St Parasceve Pyatnitsa (Friday), St Nicholas of Mozhaisk and the crucified Christ. Produced in the technique of sculptured relief they were regarded as "carved icons" which determined their plastic and pictorial traits. Images in these monuments are extremely generalised, flat and static in full conformity with their symbolic nature. They are marked by a powerful spiritual potential and produce a great emotional effect. G.K.Wagner, a prominent expert in old Russian sculpture, describes them as "examples of spiritual monu-mentalism". To this group refers the reproduction of the sculpture of St Parasceve Pyatnitsa from the village of Nyrob and of St Nicholas of Mozhaisk from the village of Pokcha included in this site. St Parasceve Pyatnitsa was regarded by common folk as a patron of women, peasant labour and the home, and St Nicholas of Mozhaisk was believed to protect populated localities which were widely founded in the Kama area in the 14th-15th centuries when Russians started settling in the area and converting the indigenous population to Christian Orthodox faith. Colour is of special importance in these images: St Parasceve looks warm and elegant, whereas the sculpture of St Nicholas of Mozhaisk is rather sombre, with dark-blue and black hues prevailing. Colour not only adds to the images' psychological characteristic but also to the three-dimentional effect, thus increasing the emotional effect. The Assembly of Archangels sculptured relief, with its smooth colour composition in blue and orange hues, is one of the most beautiful for its colour scheme among the early religious wooden sculptures of Perm. Their great spirituality and high moral ideals are attributable to old Russian traditions.

As an independent sphere of artistic endeavour the old wooden statuary of the Kama area developed in the period of the expanding economic and cultural relations between Russia and the West. This had a great impact on the Perm region. The winds of change from St Petersburg, a new capital founded on the River Neva, reached the easternmost borders of Russia with astounding speed. Kama area residents, including peasants, town and suburban dwellers, were witnesses to and participants in the tempestuous events of the 18th century. This was the historical background which had shaped the aspect of old wooden sculptures of Perm. It should be also taken into account that the area's indigenous population hat not experienced the influence of the centuries-old Russian culture, so in the period in question they assimilated both old Russian and Western trends simultaneously, as organic whole.

The 18th century brought considerable Baroque influence to Russian art which was duly reflected in local arts and crafts. New subject-matter was introduced and artistic methods were also substantially increased, for the Baroque style corresponded to the craftsmen's desire for realism in their work. Owing to survivals of pagan faith in their mentality they largely identified themselves with the images created.

The possibility of changeover from sculptured relief to statuary opened new vistas before them. Just as craftsmen in other fields, wood-carvers were attracted by the festive and decorative look of the Baroque style.

But Baroque methods, just as Classicist later on, were interpreted by them from folk positions. Outward exultation and excessive infatuation with dynamic forms were ousted by a ponderous attitude, in plastic form, to their own destiny. Very typical in this respect are sculptured images of "Christ in Gaol", which is often described as "The Northern Saviour". The peasants identified their own hard lot with the prisoner's sufferings. And it is not fortuitous that you can trace clearly the features of a local peasant, i.e. Komi-Permyak, a Tatar or a Russian, in the Saviour's face.

The particular style of religious wooden sculptures of Perm is largely determined by the fact that it was a form of traditional folk arts and crafts. In all periods of its development and irrespective of various extraneous factors influencing it. In the Kama area these wooden sculptures retained wheir static, and to a certain extent flat look, symmetry and strictly established three-dimentional effectand due to this they look definitely monumental. Craftsmen's desire for a decorative effect is manifest in the treatment of the main elements and colours, and all this is strictly in line with the image depicted in the traditional form of chep popular print.

Decorative effect, this basic feature of folk arts and crafts is all the time central in all these sculptures. The three-dimentional effect, the manner of carving, the way the attires' folds are arranged and the colour-scheme all serve to make the most of it.

The master craftsman was guided by ornamental laws when he carved Jesus Christ's hair, beard, the crown of thorns and bare chest. They did not strive simply to reproduce human anatomy, a feature allegedly typical of those old masters. They rather laid stress on their statues' expressive piercing eyes, which even contrasted with the conventional style of their general form, and this brought them closer to the real world. Certain "psychological" nature of the old wooden sculptures of Perm thus testifies to the reflection of the spiritual world of the people who produced and admired them rather than to their blind imitation of the realistic trend in the Western art or some newly adopted artistic manner

The forms, ornaments and carving methods in this case were almost exactly the same as those to produce wooden household utensils for everyday use in the locality. The latest findings by Soviet experts in the field show that it was a two-way process: the production of religious wooden sculptures had not only been influenced by other folk arts and crafts but also had a great impact on their development in the area.

The names of most of the authors of these wooden statues had been irretrievably lost for the next generations. Dmitry Domnin, a serf carpenter who worked in Lysva late in the 18th century, has been recognised as the most prominent of the established master craftsmen. He was the author of a magnificent composition, including the statue of Sabaoth. His creations are clearly marked by Classicist influence, but they exude the might and purity of the Antiquity and Renaissance no matter how austere and solemn the figures created by him may look at first sight. Domnin's Sabaoth is generally recognised to be a gem of Russian sculpture of the period.

Nicon Kiryanov, a peasant from the Village of Gabo-va, who lived a century later, was among the most prominent and prolific master wood-carvers. A great number of his works are now on view in the Perm Gallery. He produced a complex decorative composition, including 500 angels' faces for his village's chapel. The faces arc a variety of the image of an 18th-century magnate presented in the traditional style of a cheap popular print.

Many of the gallery's exhibits have been greatly damaged in the course of centuries and have not preserved their original form. The museum's and Moscow experts carry on research and spare no effort to restore them so that many of the statues have been completely restored and now look exactly as they had in old times. The process of restoration includes verification of the statues' attribution, establishment of the author's name and the date of creation as well as its attribution to a definite local "school". Great work is being done by the Perm Gallery's specialists to enrich and restore the collection and to popularise the heritage of folk masters.

Publications by experts in the field which appared in Moscow, Leningrad and Union republics have proved that wooden sculptures, much like those discovered in the vicinity of Perm had once been widely produced on the territory of our country. If compared with similar monuments of art in Western, Central and Eastern Europe the wooden religious sculptures of Perm can be ranked as magnificent artistic monuments on a European scale.

 

River Kama and Perm State Art Gallery

 

Perm style of depicting bronze-cast animals

 

St Parasceve Pyatnitsa (Friday) from the village of Nyrob

 

St Nicholas of Mozhaisk from the village of Pokcha

 

Assembly of Archangels from the village of Gubdor

 

 

Christ in the prison-room from the village of Ust-Kosva

 

Crucifix from Solikamsk 

 

D.Domnin. Sabaoth from Lysva 

 

N.Kiryanov. Angel from the village of Gabova

 

The restorer of the Perm Art Gallery - I.Arapov

 

The employee of the Perm Art Gallery O.Vlasova and candidate of medical sciences A.Novikov behind work

 

Modern exposition of a wooden sculpture

 

 

 

     

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The site is executed at support of Soros Foundations (Russia)