Skan’ (Filigree) is a traditional Russian handicraft of making openwork or soldered tracery of golden, silver or copper wire, either smooth or plaited into strings, with addition of small silver or gold balls and enamel. The word skan comes from the Old Russian word skat' meaning "to plait".
The technology of making Skan is rather labor-consuming. With the help of special tweezers a craftsman composes the tracery from pieces of thin, usually twisted wire on a metal plate. Then the pattern is strewn with fusible alloy powder - the solder that fastens all the parts of the future item together when heated at proper temperature. The metal lace received in such a way is laid on a metal surface of the future item or remains openwork to reveal all the beauty of the ornament. Even in the latter case the metal lace of Skan’ is so solid and sound that it can be safely applied independently in manufacturing of boxes, small chests, fruit bowls, and glass holders.
In Old Russia the Skan technology became known and used in the 9th-10th centuries. At that time they did not use twisted wire but tiny metal balls. Works of the 12th -13th centuries excel in quality; during that period technology of soldered skan' was developed. From the 12th century openwork and relief Skan’ with use of gems began to be used.
The 15th-16th centuries saw the blossoming of Moscow Skan’. they used various materials, such as jewels, enamel, wood, and carved bone. The most famous skan' masters of that time were Amvrosy and Ivan Fomin. Excellent samples of Russian Skan’ are kept in the museums of Old Russian art.
In the 18th-19th centuries skan items were manufactured in many art centers of Russia. Both large works of art and small items (vases, saltcellars, and caskets) were created. Crystal and pearls started to be used. From the 19th century large-scale industrial production with the use of various technologies was launched. Kitchenware, church utensils, and toilet accessories were produced at factories.
During the epoch of the Soviet power Skan’ was widely applied in art industry (works of Krasnoselsky jeweler factory in the Kostroma Region, Mstyora art factory "Jeweller" (since 1937) in the Vladimir Region, Erevan juwelery factory and many others). Along with jewelry they produced household items, such as openwork filigree vases, coasters, miniature sculptures and so forth.
In post-war years Skan’ was popular in old centers of art metal processing, such as Krasnoe Settlement near Kostroma, Mstyora near Vladimir, and Kazakovo Village of the Nizhni Novgorod Region. Skan' items started to be produced in Moscow, too. Gilded copper Skan’ started to be applied on sports cups, cigarette cases and especially often on glass holders and all sorts of buckles for women's dress, etc. The basic drawback of most of the above mentioned items was the discrepancy of Skan’ and the functions of items (cigaret cases, bread baskets), or oversaturation of ornaments (glass holders and decorative vases). However, recently a more appropriate and artistically valuable direction has developed in the art of Skan’. It is expressed both in laconicism of clearly and beautifully constructed ornament, and in the art of applied decorative devices.
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Author: Vera Ivanova