At the “Tiny Exhibition” at the Tropinin Museum, the most skillful snags were shown


Many things are shown for the first time, because it is difficult to exhibit them and it is easy for them to get lost against the backdrop of large works. The names of most of the authors are not known, but it is clear that these are secular ladies and gentlemen for whom embroidery or mosaics became a meditative pastime. It is known that Nikolai Gogol also embroidered with beads to calm his nerves, as many did in the “golden age”.

“Tiny Exhibition” begins with the very definition of a miniature. Initially, this was the name of the capital letter in handwritten books, with which the story began. It was usually written in red cinnabar – minium – from the Latin word and the name went.

Initially, capital letters in books were called miniatures, which were highlighted in red

Gradually, the miniatures began to be decorated with floral ornaments, then with the figures of saints, as a result, the drawings went beyond the letter and grew into illustrations on separate pages. The exhibition opens with a showcase built into the wall, where one of the old books is presented, though not handwritten, but already printed – an akathist to the saint and miracle worker Mitrofan of Voronezh (second quarter of the 19th century). Next to it are exhibited inkwells decorated with gold painting or intricate carvings.

Gradually, not only letters or book graphics, but any works of art in a small format began to be called a miniature. Mini portraits, which were convenient to carry around, were widely used. Images of loved ones were often embedded in pendants or rings. At the exhibition, a separate showcase shows such portraits – there are 11 of them in total.

Anna Popova at the “Tiny Exhibition”

The names of the depicted nobles and the authors of the portraits are mostly unknown. Along with the fashion for miniature painting in faces, another trend came to Russia in the 19th century – to make silhouettes. Most often, the profiles were cut out of black cardboard and pasted onto white paper. But there were also more skillful techniques for creating silhouettes – for example, eglomise.

The term comes from the name of the Parisian master Jean Baptiste Glomi, who worked in the second half of the 18th century. He pasted a foil of gold or silver leaf onto the back of the glass, on which he engraved a drawing with a thin needle, after which he varnished it. The exposition also includes cameos – profiles made not with the help of gold leaf, but as if from the finest precious stone. In fact, they are painted in watercolor. In the XVIII-XIX centuries, skillful tricks were in vogue.

little baby portraits

Miniatures, unlike large formal portraits, had quite practical functions. The sailors took images of loved ones, leaving for a long voyage. Lovers exchanged portraits. During matchmaking, potential newlyweds were first shown a portrait of their future spouse. The emperors presented portraits with their own image to distinguished noblemen for merit – it was an honor.

The exposition contains several such images carved from white bone. There are not only portraits, but also landscapes of artists – both unknown and famous. For example, Aivazovsky and Polenov. They painted small paintings as a full-scale sketch, looking at which, later it was possible to create a large canvas already in the studio. Small things were also made for children: the exhibition includes a toy porcelain set, next to which is a doll.

Doll and toy porcelain

The miniature was widely used in the decorative arts. Items were created with incredible craftsmanship. These are matchboxes, decorated with the finest engraving, and luxurious needle beds carved from white bone, and travel cases for jewelry and cosmetics, inlaid with precious metals.

At the end of the 18th century, micromosaics made from smalt pebbles became widespread. They became popular after Paul I and his wife made a long trip around Europe and brought back several of these products from Italy. But micromosaics were very expensive. Therefore, a more affordable option has become widespread – beadwork.

“Beadwork is one of the few types of decorative art that young ladies were allowed to practice,” says Anna Popova, deputy director of the Tropinin Museum, curator of the exhibition. – Moreover, the beads were so microscopic that sometimes they used hair to string it, instead of a needle. A suitable needle could not be made.

Embroideries were made according to patterns and were considered very valuable, they passed from hand to hand. One such miniature could take six months. It was believed that this occupation strengthens the nerves, so not only ladies, but men were engaged in embroidery. Nikolai Gogol, for example, also embroidered.

Stitch embroidery the size of a matchbox

To do such work requires a lot of time and patience, as well as good eyesight. The finest satin stitch embroidery presented at the exhibition is even difficult to consider, the stitches are so small, not to mention making such “touches” from threads.

Several of the smallest exhibits are built into the wall: they can be viewed through small holes in the wall, which allow you to focus on the details without a magnifying glass. Among them there is a rare exhibit – a double-walled glass, made by the serf craftsman Alexander Vershinin. No more than 20 pieces of such glasses have been preserved. Between the walls there is a landscape made of cardboard and natural moss. The craftsman took the secret of the unique technology to the grave. No one to this day can repeat his skills.

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