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Gzhel. Origins of the Russian craft


We are beginning a series of informative articles about the most beautiful traditional crfarts in Russia. In this article, we’ll tell you about the origins of Gzhel and origins of the name of the craft. Gzhel is a famous traditional Russian craft of production of porcelain and pottery items and painting them with cobalt.

The distinguishing feature of Gzhel painting is that it uses only three main colors: white, which makes up the background of the item; the painting itself is made with blue and light blue colors.

Origins of the craft and its name

Gzhel is the name of the village situated close to Moscow. Pottery production and then later porcelain manufacturing is based on presence of porcelain clay, perfectly suitable for these purposes.  The place is also famous for its skillful potters.


Development of pottery in Russia

The development of pottery in Russia in the Gzhel area dates back to the 4th century BC. In the 9th century Gzhel land became the center for the production of ceramics in Russia. It was the place where Russian potters made ceramic products for the Grand Duke Ivan Kalita.

New technologies and improvement of pottery skills promoted the production of ceramics. In the early 18th century the production of porcelain and “semi-faience” that was painted blue, which later became a symbol of Gzhel pottery, began.  Initially, the golden tones that were popular that time were used for painting porcelain articles.


Industrial crisis and decline of traditional crafts

The industrial crisis which happened in Russian at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries also influenced the development of traditional crafts. However, the production of ceramic articles was resumed by the second half of the 20th century. At the same time, a voluntary association of craftsmen was organized. They developed a new design of porcelain painting with blue paint on a white background. The blue paint contained cobalt, therefore the articles did not change their rich blue color for many years. Even now it is impossible to distinguish articles produced in the past and articles made nowadays.

Summing up, we can say that Gzhel craftsmen still cherish the old traditions of painting. Nowadays Gzhel is the main decorative and applied art in Russia which is well-known in other countries.

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