January 01, 2010

Feasting with Angels

the lubok, or broadside, was a very popular form of folk art in Russia from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. These beautiful prints were originally made from woodblocks created from boards made of linden wood (hence their name, from the word for a splint of wood, lub), then colored by hand with tempera paints. As the technology of printing progressed, the woodblock prints increasingly gave way to colored engravings, and by the late nineteenth century lubki were mass-produced by chromolithography, in the process losing their individuality and much of their charm.

Lubki treated many subjects, from edifying religious themes and folk mythology to political and social concerns that constituted a kind of up-to-the-minute reportage; some were even bawdy. The most enduring lubki were vividly colored, with flat figures whose lack of perspective was more than made up for by the prints’ lavish ornamentation. In almost all cases the imagery was accompanied by text, often in the form of verse.

The lubok illustrated here, The Feast of the Pious and Impious, dates from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. This colored woodcut was printed on four separate sheets of paper, which were then glued together to make a final print approximately two feet square in size. The cutaway architectural view reveals two groups of people feasting in Muscovite-style chambers. It is interesting to note the mingling of pagan and Christian iconography: an anthropomorphic sun looking out from the upper left-hand corner is balanced on the right by the figure of Christ in a decorative cartouche. The frame and the architectural details show a wonderful combination of organic forms and geometric patterning.

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