“A clear image deserving veneration.” No other words can better describe the cast copper icons and crosses the Old Believer masters created across the vast territories of Russia for almost three hundred years, from the late 17th until the early 20th century – in Pomorian hermitages, workshops in the vicinity of Moscow, in the villages of the Volga region, or in secret smithies in the Urals and Siberia.
A new stage in the history of copper-casting is closely associated with the Old Believer community in Russia. In the second half of the 17th century, after the religious schism in the Russian Orthodox Church, the opponents of Patriarch Nikon’s reform were forced to flee from the authorities to faraway parts of the country and hide in the woods. In these difficult conditions the Old Believers preserved and continued the Russian traditions of booklore, iconography and applied art. As invaluable relics, medieval cast copper icons were inserted into image cases and carefully put into wooden painted or carved skladen (an icon with foldable side flaps).
Not only did the Old Believers keep the Russian legacy, but they created their specific religious and spiritual culture as well. Cast copper icons, as “purified by fire” and “not made by the Nikonists”, were widely venerated by ordinary Russians. The variety of forms, iconography, design and decoration of the Old Believer’s cast copper crosses, icons and folding icons is astonishing. Amongst the enormous number of surviving cast copper objects one can distinguish the items created in specific foundries. Not surprisingly, as early as the first half of the 19th century there existed certain types of “cast copper crosses and icons”, such as Pomorian, Guslitsky (or Zagarian) and Pogostsky that were very widespread among Old Believer communities of different sorts.
Looking at this outstanding and original layer of Russian applied art one may bear in mind that casting copper in Russia evolved in special conditions and was prohibited by the law. Russia’s need in non-ferrous metals, so necessary for the military, forced Peter the Great to issue decrees in 1722 and 1723 forbidding the manufacture, sale and distribution of copper icons and crosses.
The decree only excepted baptismal crosses – telniki, or breast panagias. The Old Believers recognized only the eight-pointed cross which they would depict in the center of a male and female baptismal cross. A quotation from the prayer “Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered” became mandatory words to be written on the back of the baptismal crosses.
Despite the law that was in force for 160 years in Russia, casting copper in the Old Believer communities living in woods and secret hermitages, reached its highest level of development.
The brightest pages in the history of Russian ornamental copper-casting were the icons, crosses and skladens produced in the foundries of the Pomorian Vyg community. Residents of this Old Believer settlement, founded in 1694 on the river Vyg in Karelia, regarded themselves as successors of the old Solovetsk monastery on the White Sea, and its founders – saints Zosima and Savvatii of Solovki - as their heavenly protectors. Not surprisingly, the images of those saints were often depicted on the icons and folding icons. As late as the first half of the 18th century, the Vyg Pustyn was the largest religious and cultural center of the Old Believers. Hand-written books, icons and small cast copper objects created by the Vyg community were distinguished by their integral artistic style, later referred to as “Pomorian.”
To meet the religious needs of the members of the Pomorian bespopovtsy community, “correct” crosses were needed. The Pomorian cast copper crosses depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ were cast in an eight-pointed form and in accordance with a strict design – at the top edge of the cross was an image of the Savior Not Made by Hands with the inscription “Царь Славы IС ХС (Исус Христос) Сынъ Божiи” (The King of Glory Jesus Christ). The same design is reproduced on a small Pomorian cross, the central image of the icon, notable for fine painting and pronounced ornamentation.
In the course of time, the cross shape became more complex. Now it had side square plates with paired figures of attending Mother of God and Saint Martha, Apostle John the Theologian and St. John Longinus the Martyr. These crosses were often cut into kiot cases and ornamented painted icons. The crosses varied in sizes, ranging from very small crucifixes, whose surface was often decorated with colored enamels, to large gilt crosses with exquisite ornamentation on the reverse. Beautiful molding, fine casting and thorough finishing – all these distinctive features of the Pomorian small cast copper objects are evidence of the high professionalism of the chiselers, casters and enamellers. These features also manifested themselves in a miniature icon of the Savior Not Made with Hands, decorated with a rarely encountered deep red enamel.
The main Vyg brass foundry produced not only crosses but also folding icons with two, three or four panels. A specialty of the Vyg copper-casting production was a small diptych, also known as the “Pomorian panagia.” A version of the medieval Russian panagia, it was redesigned by the Pomorian masters. On square leaves in the medallions against a smooth dark-blue enamel background are depicted scenes with the images of the Theotokos of the Sign and the Old Testament Trinity. Ornamentation of another folding icon is notable for a combination of a white-pink background with spectacular contrasting yellow dots on dark corner pieces. The reverse side of these miniature objects was also decorated with an image of the eight-edged Golgotha cross or a rosette colored with glass-like enamels. The Pomorian masters later increased the size of the folding icon of the Crucifixion of Christ. These miniature pieces covered with bright dotted enamels resemble jewelry manufactured by medieval Russian masters. Such small folding icons could be worn on the breast.
Among the breast icons produced by the Pomorian masters were small triptychs depicting the Deesis. The distinctive features of miniature art pieces of the second half of the 18th century are a combination of dark turquoise and white enamels, embossed star-like rosettes against a smooth background, and halo beams. These folding icons are beautiful for their image execution and the elaborated ornamentation on the front and the reverse sides.
The most popular of all miniature ornamental copper-cast objects was a new iconographic version of the copper triptych of The Deesis with selected saints, also known as devyatki (niners), portraying nine figures of the saints on the leaves. This group of saints, whose names were given to the side-altars in the tabernacles of the Vyg community, symbolize the idea of protection of the community by the Holy Virgin and the saints. The diversity of ornamentation of the folding icons decorated with multi-colored glass-like enamels with contrasting spots or a rare pink color palette is astonishing. The reverse of the left leaf traditionally carried a depiction of the eight-pointed Golgotha cross, while the surface of other leaves could be decorated with a large rosette or cartouche. On the surface of a flat case a visitor of the Vyg community could inscribe a memorial date, initials or the owner’s name.
No less famous was a second version of the folding icon of the Deesis with selected saints, with its side leaves portraying a different group of saints. They were produced in the form of small odnovershkovy (one vershok, approx. 4.4 cm) icons.
The key art piece of the Pomorian casters was a tetraptych, or “great festival leaves” as they would solemnly call it. It is believed that it was originally a model of a big triptych with panels depicting the twelve feasts of the Christian year. Years later kokoshniki crests and a fourth panel were added to the construction. The first three leaves illustrated the twelve feasts, while the fourth panel represented the icons of the Mother of God. This piece of the art that was used as a traveling iconostasis is distinguished by its integral creative conception. The reverse of one of the panels traditionally carried an image of the Golgotha cross cast inside an ornamental case. A distinctive feature of some of the tetraptychs was a magnificent relief ornamentation depicting curly shoots with a cartouche in the center cast on the back of the leaf. The owner could order a memorial inscription to be made on the surface of this smooth frame.
It is not yet known who created a master-pattern of the tetraptych. Among the Vyg casters, whose names survived in documentary sources, were citizens of Novgorod and inhabitants of other Russian towns and villages. Scribes and iconographers who painted icons for the tabernacles of the Vyg community might have also contributed to the creation of the Pomorian miniature ornamental copper-casting.
The evidence of the high professionalism of the Vyg casters is a dismountable master-pattern of foldable icons, which enabled the casting of icons in the form of individual leaves and different iconographic versions of the triptychs showing festival scenes.
Among the folding icons most venerated by hermits and numerous pilgrims was a triptych depicting the twelve feasts of The Dormition of the Mother of God. The Ressurection of Christ (The Descent into Hell). The Epiphany. The special adoration of this foldable icon is closely associated with the main cathedral chapel of the Vyg community and its saints’ days.
Rich experience gained in casting engineering led to a significant expansion of the industry – now copper crosses and panels were produced by as many as 5 hermitages of the Vyg community. The production manufactured in these faraway smithies was delivered to the monastery and further distributed to other areas of the Russian Empire. The surviving manuscripts drawn by the Pomorian casters contain technological instructions on the manufacturing of cast and finift handicraft. The casters passed on their experience and made recommendations on the preparation of earth for casting, enamel grinding and color painting of leaves and crosses.
The Pomorian cast objects also included traveling iconostases, composed of a crucifix surrounded by panels depicting festival scenes and leaves of the Pomorian panagia, and, rarely, by separate miniature icons. These small breast icons of the Mother of God Hodegitria of Smolensk, saint martyrs Cyricus and Julitta and Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker accompanied people in their trips around the vast Russian territories. Not surprisingly, the Pomorian casters created yet another version of the triptych, whose panels comprised three different scenes: Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, The Mother of God the Joy of All Who Sorrow and saint martyrs Cyricus and Julitta with selected saints. This gilded foldable icon produced by one of the hermitage foundries became, for their wearers, a valuable sacred image until the end of their lives…
The cast copper icons, crosses and folding icons created by talented Pomorian casters and enamellers became the standard for numerous workshops in Russia, including small handicraft shops in the Moscow, Vladimir, Nizhny Novgorod and other gubernias. Thanks to these village casters, copper icons and crosses became affordable in price and gained great popularity.
The main objects produced by these small foundries were crosses that varied in iconographic programs and design. The Guslitsky masters cast large altar eight-edged crosses with a relief depiction of The Crucifixion of Christ and the inscription “IНЦИ” (Исус Назорянин Царь Иудейский corresponding to INRI in Latin). These crosses were widespread among the popovtsy who accepted the hierarchy of priests and bishops. “Cross is the keeper of the entire Universe, Cross is a church beauty” - these words was an essential part of the reverse of the crosses, varying in size and ornamentation. Such is a small gilded cross with a high-relief depiction of the Crucifixion of Christ, cut into the mullion of a painted triptych.
Especially popular were large and small kiot (cased) crosses, surrounded by icon panels and surmounted by cherubs and multiple seraphim. A relief depiction of the Crucifixion of Christ with a combination of stylized floral and scaly ornamentation and a two-color enamel palette mark out one of the most expressive artworks of the Guslitsky masters. The comprehensive iconographic program of the large kiot cross surrounded by 18 panels depicting festival scenes represents the greatest artistic achievement of the Guslitsky casters. Similar crosses, often cut into painted icons, or colorized wooden boards, decorated the interiors of many Old Believer churches.
A small icon of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin and the mullions of the foldable icons of Selected feasts and The Deesis with selected saints are likely to have been made by the same small workshops in the second half of the 18thcentury. The same shape of the finial with an image of the Savior Not Made with Hands, a similar color palette of thick enamels - these common technological, iconographic suggests that they were made by the same circle of casters. The foldable icons with a two-tier theme The Deesis with selected saints would later be cast along with a massive finial decorated with a large floral rosette or an image of the Savior Not Made with Hands.
Among the cast copper objects made in the 18th century is a small crucifix decorated with green and blue enamel, with three-part wedge-like endings of the branches. A distinctive feature of this crucifix is an image of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker and Saint Nikita beating the devil.
The best samples of cast copper objects of the 18th century include a triptych of The Savior of Smolensk with Blessed Zosima and Savvatii of Solovetsk with yellow, green and blue enamels. The icon ornamentation is emphasized by white enamel that partially survived on the frame of the central leaf. The same group of saints is executed on the panels of the folding icon of The Mother of God Hodegitria of Smolensk surmounted by a figured finial. “All my hope I place in thee, O Mother of God…” – this prayer not only decorated the cast copper image but filled it with a meaningful content, making the image of the Mother of God an object of special veneration.
There was also a different group of images on the leaves of foldable icons cast in the 18th century. Festival themes complement a composition of the foldable icon with a relief image of St. Nicolas the Wonderworker represented on a smooth surface of the blue-green enamel background on the central leaf.
In line with Russian traditions, the shape of the Guslitsky and Zagarski triptychs - a miniature reproduction of the Holy Gates in the temple iconostasis - are very widespread in icons of the Mother of God with selected saints, highly venerated by people. Large panels with the images of the Archangel Michael with selected festivals and Our Lady of the Passion with selected saints, both having the same shape of the wedge-like finial of the central leaf and the panels, and decorated with geometrical ornamentation, are traditional artworks of the Guslitsky casters in the 19th century.
Looking at these simple objects produced by small village copper foundries, one begins to realize the importance of the cast copper objects in the daily life of ordinary Russians, with its joys and sorrows. For instance, an icon of St. Antipas of Pergamus, represented both in small and foldable versions, was prayed to for relief from toothache. Broad veneration of St. Paraskeva Piatnitsa, the patroness of family and trade, was represented in a small traveling triptych and an ornamental gilt image surmounted by a finial with six cherubs.
SS Cyricus and Julitta, venerated as the patrons of family and children, were also portrayed on small folding icons with selected saints and as part of tetraptychs reproducing Pomorian miniature icons. Another composition, surmounted by a complex figured finial, includes “odnovershkovy” icons of St. Nikita beating the devil, SS Cyricus and Julitta, Our Lady of Kazan and Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker.
These simple and unsophisticated icons might have been made by numerous foundries of Zagarian villages in the Moscow vicinity. As many as 150 foundries in the villages of the Bogorodsky uezd in the Moscow gubernia, produced copper objects, but only a few of them made crosses, breast-worn and foldable icons. These small village workshops, with their traditional technology, which included a smithy and a mould-making facility, cast simple and cheap products, rarely decorated with enamel.
The masters of these small foundries sought to expand the range of commodities and improve their quality. The 1882 All-Russia Arts and Industry Exhibition in Moscow awarded Ivan Tarasov a farmer from the village of Novoe in the Bogorodsky uezd in the Moscow gubernia “for producing good quality and cheap copper icons”. Twenty years later, in 1902, another master Fedor Frolov from the same village exhibited his copper crosses at the All-Russia Handicraft Exhibition in Saint Petersburg.
Zagarian and Guslitsky copper-casting was so close in style and so broadly circulated in Russia that it is almost impossible to determine exactly who produced them. Thus, at the beginning of the 20th century, V.G.Druzhinin, the famous researcher of Pomorian booklore and copper-casting, could not distinguish between the Guslitsky and Zagarian cast copper production emphasizing only light weight as their main feature.
The copper castings made by the Guslitsky masters were very light indeed. Of particular value were the cast objects produced in the village of Antsiferovo. They were sold in Moscow in pouds and were significantly more expensive than the Zagarian production. But the main specific features of the Guslitsky copper-casting, as we tend to believe, was a more exquisite ornamentation of the copper crosses, icons and foldable icons. The surface of every Guslitsky icon was covered with ornamentation in the form of curly shoots, stylized curls or simple geometric elements in the form of triangles, dots or stripes.
Vegetative shoots with tiny leaves and flowers decorate the icon of saint martyrs Antipas, Florus and Laurus. Other vegetative motifs in the form of high shoots with large flower buds, similar to the illustrations encountered in the Guslitsky handwritten books, were used by the masters to decorate an icon of SS Gregory the Theologian, Basil the Great and John the Chrysostom. An carved finial featuring a King of Kings composition and surmounted by the images of cherubs and multiple seraphim on high pins would become one of the distinctive features of Guslitsky copper casting.
The icon of the Mother of God, the “warm protector”, was interpreted by the Guslitsky masters in an absolutely unique way. The centerpiece of the foldable icon Our Lady of Kazan with a finial featuring The Savior Not Made with Hands, the Old Testament Trinity and two cherubs is notable for a combination of dark-blue and white enamels. Curly floral shoots decorating the Holy Virgin’s halo, perceived as a metal embodiment of the words of a sacred song “like color non-fading we glorify thee, the Mother of God”, would become an essential element of ornamentation of the icons produced by the Guslitsky masters.
Sacred songs can be equally “heard” from the case of a brass icon of The Intercession of the Mother of God decorated with glass-like white, blue and green enamels colors with rare yellow dots. This icon was especially venerated by the Old Believers, whose religious center since the 18th century was the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin at the Rogozhsky cemetery in Moscow.
One of the most remarkable copper objects produced by the Guslitsky foundries is an icon of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, the protector of all who “got into trouble”. It has a carved finial and rich ornamentation in the form of shoots on the background and the saint’s halo, curly stripes combined with bluish-black and white enamels. Another big icon, whose surface is covered with ornamentation and decorated with white, bright-blue and yellow enamels, represents the greatest achievement of the Guslitsky masters.
Foundries in the village of Nikologorsky Pogost (the Vladimir gubernia) produced cast copper objects with completely different qualities. Taking into account an increased demand for the medieval “pre-Nikon” items among the Old-Believers, the craftsmen learned to imitate or even counterfeit old icons and crosses.
The foundries’ production was bought wholesale by dealers, who were selling it not only in the neighboring villages, but also supplied to the Nizhny Novgorod Fair and other cities. The distinctive feature of the “pogost” casting was a special design imitating medieval Russian compositions, forms and ornamentation. A foldable icon of the Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker (Mozhaisky), imitating the pattern of Russian medieval wooden carving and a carved icon of the Saints Boris and Gleb, represent the impressive workmanship of the village copper-casters.
Of special demand among the Old Believers were “ancient” cast copper icons with a high-relief image of the Savior Almighty with His two right hand fingers raised in blessing and the Gospel in His left. The borders carry the embossed words of a sermon dedicated to the festival of the Transfiguration of Our Lord “Thou wast transfigured on the mount, O Christ God, revealing Thy glory to Thy disciples…” In order to make the icons look “ancient” the craftsmen cast an embossed date “ЗРВ ЛЕТА” (7102 = 1594), obviously associated with a historical event that took place in the late 16th century. The same date is cast on the back of a crucifix imitating the iconography of the most venerated medieval Russian images.
The production of Moscow’s Old Believer foundries is also distinguished by other features. Ornamental casting by the Moscow craftsmen was a new phase in the development of this applied art. The rapid development of the casting industry is, to a great extent, to be credited to the establishment of the largest Old Believer communities in Moscow. During an epidemic of plague in 1771, two Old Believer cemeteries were founded in Moscow – the Rogozhskoe (popovtsy) and Preobrazhensky (bezpopovtsy).
While the Rogozsky cemetery community received cast copper production from the Guslitsky villages near Moscow, the Preobrazensky community, situated in the Lefortovo district in Moscow, had its own foundries to produce cast copper crosses and icons. These workshops, that copied books and produced painted and cast bronze icons, were founded with donations from rich merchants. It is well-known that Ilya Kovylin, founder of the Preobrazhensky community, went to Vyg from where he brought to Moscow an organizational chart of the Vyg community; the architectural complex of the Preobrazhensky cemetery was build on the pattern of the Vyg community.
We assume that Ilya Kovylin examined the Vyg foundries that brought in considerable returns. Initially foundries that produced crosses and foldable icons “after the Pomorian fashion” began to operate in Moscow by the late 18th century, in close proximity to the Preobrazhensky cemetery. These workshops basically served their communities in Moscow and other cities, whose parishioners “prayed to copper icons only, made only by co-religionists.”
After long debates with the Pomorians about the correct shape and inscriptions on the Moscow crosses, the Vyg craftsmen finally developed a considered solution. In line with the Pomorian iconographic traditions, the upper edge of the cross carried an image of the Savior Not Made with Hands, with the inscription «Царь Славы IС ХС (Исус Христос) Сынъ Божiи» (the King of Glory JC [Jesus Christ]) the Son of God) cast above the Crucifixion of Christ. The frontal surface of the crucifix, executed in the second half of the 19th century, was decorated with multicolored enamels emphasizing the main elements of the composition.
Originally, a similar inscription “Царь Славы IС ХС (Исус Христос) Сынъ Божiи” was also made on the cross, which became central for the composition of the big painted icon in a silver case (oklad), made by Moscow’s craftsmen in the early 19th century. But the icon owner obviously requested that the monogram «IС ХС» be removed from the upper edge of the cast bronze cross and replaced with the abbreviation “IНЦИ” (INRI).
Moscow’s craftsmen were continuously expanding the range of their products and further diversified the ornamentation of the cast copper objects, including miniature crosses, that were very popular at that time. Thus, in the inventories of the Preobrazhensky community estate one can often come across mention of the crucifixes “smaller in size with the Mother of God and the Apostle John the Theologian.” To make them more stable, these crosses were cast on a small V-shaped stand.
Particularly widespread among the Moscow Old Believers were kiot crosses with standing Mother of God and Saint Martha, the Apostle John the Theologian and Saint Longinus the martyr. A distinctive feature of another cast copper cross was the date “1879” and the monogram “М.Р.С.Х” (M.R.S.Kh) standing for “Master Rodion Semyonovich Khrustalyov”, a very famous Moscow’s chiseler.
A heavily gilded triptych The Deesis with selected saints was made also in line with the Pomorian copper-casting standards. The reverse of this triptych reproduces a composition depicting the eight-pointed Golgotha cross crowned by an ornately shaped cartouche.
Archival records of the second half of the 19th century often mention triptychs with the Deesis, artistically interpreted by Moscow casters. They are distinguished by high quality casting conveying the tiniest details of the faces and figures of the Savior, the Mother of God and John the Baptist.
The triptych panels are literally “interweaved” with solid vegetative ornamentation covered with glass-like enamels. On the back of the triptych, in a decorated frame, against a panoramic view of Jerusalem, is an image of the Golgotha cross embossed against a sky blue enamel background. This artwork, as we suggest, is a Deesis representing a compound composition with a high-relief image of the Savior Enthroned and carved images of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel.
One of the most popular Moscow icons was a “two-vershok” icon of the Savior of Smolensk. This icon, portraying kneeling saints Sergius of Radonezh and Barlaam of Khutyn, represents a locally venerated painted icon of the Savior of Smolensk that was formerly painted on a tower of the Moscow Kremlin in commemoration of the capture of Smolensk in 1514.
Another specimen of cast copper icons, a small diptych The Deesis. The Guardian Angel and the Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, is also likely to have been made by Moscow craftsmen. The idea of the heavenly protection of the Preobrazhensky community represented in the Deesis, was best embodied in the figures of a guardian angel and Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. The ornamentation of the reverse side of this small foldable icon imitates a composition of the famous Pomorian panagia. This diptych with the Old Testament Trinity and Our Lady of the Sign, decorated with glass-like white enamel best represents the work of Moscow’s enamellers.
The Moscow masters created many different versions of the Old Testament Trinity icons, among which a large icon particularly stands out, it is notable for its well-considered and balanced composition. A “two-vershok” icon of the Old Testament Trinity, very popular in the Old Believer community, carries Rodion Khrustalyov’s monogram.
Rodion Khrustalyov was the author of a great variety of cast copper crosses and icons, among which a tetraptych, Twelve Feasts of the Christian Year, particularly stands out, executed along Khrustalyov’s model. Increased size, frames with embossed inscriptions on the panels, and a typically “Moscow-styled” mix of multicolored enamels is what distinguishes this icon from the Pomorian original.
Rodion Khrustalyov’s initials and those of his apprentice (?) master monogrammer S.I.B. can be found on numerous “one-vershok” icons imitating leaves of a large tetraptych with the twelve feasts.
These casts might have been made in one of the foundries situated in the Lefortovo district of Moscow, at Devyataya Rota street. The history of this workshop, formerly owned by Moscow’s citizens Irina and Aksinya Timofeev, can be traced in archival records from the first half of the 19th century. It is well-known that the items produced by this foundry sold not only in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but in other Russian cities as well. This very foundry is most likely to have developed a model of a “two-vershok” icon of Our Lady of Kazan. A combination of multicolored enamels in the centerpiece of the icon and in the wide borders decorated with stylized ornamentation in the form of grape-vide makes this icon look particularly festive. The icons of Our Lady of Kazan, created on the pattern of the master Ignat Timofeev, were reproduced in many castings of the second half of the 19th – early 20th century.
In the second half of the 19th century the foundry was sold to a new owner, Yekaterina Petrova. It is probably at this time that the foundry cast an icon of Our Lady Hodegetria in Smolensk.
One the masterpieces created by Moscow’s copper casters and enamellers is undoubtedly an icon of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin. A multi-figured composition of the centerpiece is surrounded by wide borders decorated with a complex interweaved ornamentation. This cast gilded bronze icon, covered with multicolored enamels, looks as if it is inserted into a precious oklad (metal case); this impression is heightened by the effective mix of contrasting dark-blue and white enamels. The original icon was possibly created for a tabernacle in the Cathedral of the Dormition at the Preobrazhensky cemetery in Moscow. From 1870 to 1880 the icon model was many times adjusted or chased by Rodion Khrustalyov.
One of Khrustalev’s most remarkable art pieces is an icon of the saints George the Theologian, Basil the Great and John the Chrysostom. As a basis for this masterpiece Khrustalyov used a modest work by a Guslitsky craftsman. For many years Rodion Khrustalev worked hard on developing the images of the three saints by using a model created in the first half of the 19th century. Khrustalyov’s monogram can be also seen on the icon of the Flamy Ascension of Elija the Prophet, particularly venerated by the Old Believers.
Evidence of the high quality work of Moscow chiselers is found in the memoirs of Anfim Serov, a caster from Krasnoe Selo. “The model… is made by the engraver. The work is very complex and requires a master with practical experience… The model is pressed into the earth; when being extracted out of the earth, it has to be released freely without earth being pressed into it… Such models could be made only by Moscow’s masters…” These masters were Ignat Timofeev, Rodion Khrustalyov, S.I.B. and other chiselers, whose names we know only by the initials encountered on numerous cast copper crosses, icons and foldable icons of Muscovite origin.
Particularly honored by Moscow’s Old Believers were small cast copper icons of the Apostle John the Theologian and his disciple Prochor praying to the icon of the Savior Not Made with Hands against a depiction of the Preobrazhensky cemetery cathedral and an icon of Saint Daniel, whose namesake was a founder of the Vyg community.
Moscow’s masters worked hard on developing new iconographic versions of large and small icons of the saints. One of these, particularly venerated by the Old Believers, was an icon of St. Tryphon with a bird in his hand. The extended version of a tale of the rescued princess is represented in many castings depicting a scene of the Miracle of St. George and the Dragon. Saints John the Warrior and Bonifacius depicted in the centerpiece of a small cast copper icons were venerated as the saints who helped people who got into trouble. An image of Saint Antipas, the bishop of Pergamon, is represented on a “two-vershok” gilded icon decorated with blue enamel.
Moscow’s cast bronze icons are distinguished by a great variety of ornamental motifs. The centerpieces of the “two-vershok” icons are surrounded not only by stylized vegetative ornamentation in the form of grape-vine or a curly shoot, as on the icon of the Holy Week, but also by geometrical ornamentation, similar to the icons of the Dormition, Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker and Saints Cyricus and Julitta with selected saints.
A cast copper icon of the Intercession of the Mother of God, crowned by a keeled finial with an image of the New Testament Trinity, is notable for a lovely combination of blue enamel and thick gilding. This icon is especially venerated by the Old Believers owing to the fact that one of the tabernacles at the female section of the Preobrazhensky cemetery cathedral was sanctified in honor of the festival of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin.
The best casting and enameling traditions would be continued in the early 1880s by an Old Believer foundry, owned by Maria Sokolova. It produced golden crosses and silver icon cases, marked with a monogram “MS” standing for “Maria Sokolova.” A distinctive feature of the workshop’s production is an exquisite combination of colors with white enamel background.
In the early 20th century similar cast copper icons and crosses were sold in Moscow’s Old Believer shops as samples of the “best Pomorian work.” The models created by Muscovite craftsmen would later be used by numerous foundries and smithies in the Volga Basin and the Baltic gubernias, in Vyatka and in the Urals. Cast bronze icons created by Russian casters, chiselers and enamellers spread across Russia and far beyond it – into Bulgaria, Hungary, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, USA, Finland, France and many other countries.