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- Ancient Russian Ornamental Tiles

- History of Ornaments

* Permogorsk Painting

* Mezen Painting

* Gorodets Painting



Since prehistoric times and until now, the ordinary clay has served as  a magnificent building material and provided a  base for an unlimited variety of ceramic wares. From eroded by the rain clay the primitive man fashioned the first simple bowl.  And this same ordinary clay enabled unknown masters of Ancient Egypt, Babylon, and Greece to create such masterpieces as pitchers, lamps, and other objects.

Red girdle tiles of Moscow production. First half 17th century.



The invention of glaze - a hard and transparent coating of the clay surface - turned clay into a durable and beautiful building material . Decorative tiles embellished building facades, walls, fireplaces, and table tops. In the beginning, potters and builders used only monochromatic glazes - transparent, gray-green or yellow.  Gradually, however,  such a variety of colors developed that ceramics became increasingly ornamental and complex.

Tiled stove 1680s


First well-preserved samples of Russian ceramic tiles were made in the 10th-11th centuries. But it was not until the beginning of the 15th century, after the country had been recovered from the Mongolian invasion, when Russian ceramic tiles began to be produced on a wide scale.


Red girdle tiles of Moscow production. Late 16th century.


Terra-cotta plaques from the lower band of the Nicolo-Peshnoshsky Monastery cathedral. First quarter 16th century

At that time, the country strove to construct a great number of glamorous buildings quickly, and builders used brick to construct them. Artisans created relief-patterns on clay plates to imitate stone carvings.  Although unglazed, this was the first example of ceramic cladding has been well-preserved and still decorates buildings today.




Anonymous artisans working in small potteries in Moscow created the first tiles, and,
gradually, the art extended throughout Russia.  In the hands of these gifted craftsmen, tile-making and tile-setting developed into an art that reflected the life, tastes and customs of the people.

Stove with red-tile facing. Reconstructed


19redTile360.jpg The first ceramic tiles were made from red clay and were called terra-cotta. The terra-cotta color is, on its own, very decorative. The relief figures imaged on them were unicorns, griffins, winged horses, and dragons. This made the decorated surfaces looking more like a book of fairy tales.  The use of decorative tiles spread to the facades of churches and houses as well as the facing of heating stoves. 50
Red tiles of Moscow produstion. Late 16th century Red tile from Afanasyevsky Monastery in Yaroslavl, 1664



During the 16th century, there appeared first samples covered with green glaze, so-called “Muravnie” tiles. From these, masters created the walls of churches and fashioned stoves of extraordinary beauty.


Stove with Muravnie tiles facing.

Muravnie glazed tile. 1690s.


In the midle of the 17th century, Russian tile-makers began producing a polychromatic relief tile called Tseninny (valuable), or Friazhzky (foreign). Much in vogue at that time, they fit well with Moscow tastes of ornate exteriors of churches, public buildings, and private homes. 


Detail of the tiled frieze in the Apparition of Crist Church in Solikamsk. 1687

Relief tile from the décor of the Mostovaya (Bridge) Tower in Izmailovo, Moscow, 1670s


Stove tiles became popular among the wealthy, decorating not only the Czar’s chambers,
but the homes of rich traders, and prosperous townspeople as well. Caught in the rays of
the sun, the ornamental tiles sparkle like precious stones.


The golden age of  Russian tile-making came in the last quarter of the 17th century.  Tiles,
tile panels, bands, and friezes profusely adorned most of the churches built during those



Tile stove 1680s

Relief tile from the décor of the Verkhospassky Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin. 1680s

History rarely conserved the names of those masters of Russian ornamental tiles.  However, in documents of Czar Aleksey Mikhailovich Romanov (1629-1676), it was certified that the author of the famous ornamental tiles in the imperial halls was master Stephan Ivanov, nicknamed “Half-Devil”.


Tiled stove. Second half 18 century.



The use of ceramic tiles for exterior finishing came to an end  at the beginning of the 18th century.  Artisans then used tile to clad, or sheathe fireplaces, and high detail relief was no longer relevant.  Gradually this evolved into the creation of tiles with no relief.  At first, a small elevated oval portrayed a flower or another detail with a caption.  Finally, the even the oval disappeared, leaving only a flat colored picture.

Tile stove. Second half of 18th century


 Blue Delft tiles from Holland greatly influenced Russian ceramic work.  Traveling at the end of the 17th century, Czar Peter I was so impressed with this art that he decided to begin production in Russia.  He hired two Swedish masters to make blue tiles "in the Dutch manner."  The works of these masters has been lost, but white tiles with blue drawings remained popular throughout the entire 18th century.


Painted tiles “in a Holland Manner.”

Last quarter 18th century

Painted tiles of Petersburg production “in a Russian Manner.” 1710s-1760s


In the 19th century, the emergence of highly technical ceramic factories adversely effected smaller handicraft workshops.  However, the folk art displayed the salient characteristics of simplicity with a clear, expressive idea.  The best of these talented artists skillfully combined the ornamental and functional elements into a single monolithic whole - a genuine work of art.  


Painted tiles. Second half of 18th century. Painted tile. 19th century


History of Ornaments





01prialkakras.jpg Permogorsk painting, one of the most famous of ancient Russian art forms, began in the northern regions of the country.  Early artists perfected their beautiful and unique techniques in old icons and book illustrations. 02prialkaKrasFragm.jpg
Spinning wheels of the 19th century


03girlianda.jpg The Permogorsk artist first painted the entire surface white, and then outlined his designs in black lines. Finally, he added the requisite colors to the design.  Today the artist uses modern paints, but originally,  artists created their own paints from raw egg.  However, today's artists use the same colors as in the ancient times.  Red dominates the painting, and green and yellow compliment it. 04kataniye.jpg


05supriadki.jpg Traditionally in Russian paintings, the pattern covers the entire surface.  Ornamental details such as leaves, berries, and flowers occupy any space not covered by the main subject.  The Permogorsk paintings leave no blank space for personal meditation, which could not be seen in many other paintings as for example in Japanese designs.


Permogorsk masters especially liked to create scenes portraying the life of  rural  Russians: a festive dinner, a delightful tea party, a group riding horses, or women socializing as they gather around their spinning wheels.   The artists deliberately depicted the bright side of country life, giving it a festive atmosphere to match the painters' dream of a happy and beautiful life. 06prialkaDevichnik.jpg

Spinning wheels of the 19th century


07prialkaStarin.jpg This Pemogorsk painting of an ancient spinning wheel portrays a party of young people.  A lion and a unicorn adorn the top of the rich house boasting a hipped roof.  Inside, four young people socialize.  The man plays the accordion while the three girls spin yarn. Each detail of a canvas is not accidental. Here it is possible "to read" the detailed story in which the artist decorates the real plot putting in the dream about the beautiful.



Bird of fortune - Sirin






This ornament, accomplished only with black and red paint, is called Mezen and was born many centuries ago on the shores of river Mezen, which flows into the Arctic Ocean on the North of Russia. The Mezen paintings have laconic and expressive stylized form and a restrained colour, where the black outline emphasizes the strained sounding of the brownish-red colour.



We can see stingy and relative graphic images of animals – horses or deer on thin legs and birds with wings that look like feathers. The animals and birds are stylized almost to the loss of their natural contours and apprehend as an ornament. By numerously repeating the drawing of the animal, the ancient masters reproduce movement.


Mezen paintings by its nature are the most ancient ones among the artistic handicraft and one of the most… mysterious.  Its sources are lost in the remote ages, in the initial period of the Slavic tribes forming. The historians still ponder how this type of ornament at the same time may be so familiar to the drawings on the rock cliffs of primitive people, the Paleolithic cave paintings of France, and the ornamental decoration in style Dipilon, with which the Ancient Greeks embellished their amphora.



Mezen paintings have a bunch of symbols, each of which has its own deep meaning. The drawing relates more to an ancient letter, written in signs-hieroglyphs.

Two diamond-shaped triangles symbolize masculine and female origin, source of the life diversity. Rhombus is the symbol of the fertility and the grain; expresses the idea of home and prosperity. Spiral is symbol of the sun and heat accompanying and protecting the man. Several spirals are symbol of fire and fire elements.

Look at this ornament and you will notice, that even though the drawing is very abstract, this painting reminds… a drawing of a child. This is how our children like to draw!  Maybe the childhood of a human and the humankind were similar?




Gorodets Painting 





Gorodets painting - it is a whole world of bright images, a national dream of festive, cheerful and affluent life, embodied by the arms of artists from Nizhniy Novgorod.



Gorodets3.jpg Gorodets painting started developing in the mid 19th century near town Gorodets (Nizhny Novgorod Region, Russia). Spinning wheels, baskets and boxes for the storage of yarn, children’s chairs and some utensils were decorated with the painting. Gorodets spinning wheels were especially popular. Gorodets6.jpg


The craftsmen loved painting townspeople, horsemen, scenes of drinking tea in rich interiors decorated with columns and clocks, with high windows, beautiful curtains and magnificent stair-cases. They drew scenes of hunting, festivities, driving in the sledges, rendezvous of lovers,  etc. And many many flower decorations.




You can ask questions or make order by my  e-mail: