From time immemorial Rostov Veliki was famous for its architecture, icon-painting, frescoes, and bell-ringing, and from the mid 18th century enamel painting (finift) flourished here. Rostov finift’ is painting on enamel with enamel paints.
Enamel is solid vitreous coating applied onto a metal base (copper, steel, silver, or gold plate) with additives of various colour metal oxides and secured by firing in a muffle furnace at 800 C (1 472,00 F).
Enamel came to Old Rus from Byzantium (together with Christianity, in the 10th century), and so the Russian name of enamel - finift’ - is derived from the Greek finftis, which means ‘bright, glittering’. It is the radiance, brilliance, and unfading colours that attract to finift’: the painted designs shine in the milk-white enamel surface as if oozing from its depth. Painting on enamel, being a very complicated decorative art, has always been esteemed on a par with precious stones. Finift’ technique is used for creating jewelry, icons, miniature portraits, coats of arms, and other luxury. Painting on enamel boasts literally everlasting purity, luster and transparency of colours. It is not subjected, unlike other kinds of painting, to ruinous impact of light, dirtying, and moist and temperature differences.
Craftsmen of Kievan Rus’ used vitreous coating of various colours for decorating metal items; they mastered the techniques of erose enamel (enamel filling hollows in metal), and cloisonne enamel (filling spaces between metal stripes soldered on metal surface). As for painting on enamel, a comparatively late technology of artistic enamel, it appeared in Russia in the late 17th century.
This original technology was invented by the French jeweler Jean Toutan in the 17th century. He invented refractory paints which are applied with a brush on enamel surface and then dried and fired to secure. First high-melting and then low-temperature paints are applied. After each colour layer the plate has to be fired, with the paints changing their colours a little. For creation of a complex multicolored composition the plate is fired four to seven times.
From France painting on enamel spread around Europe. Russian masters studying abroad mastered this ‘vitreous painting’ and soon its secrets reached Moscow, Veliky Ustyug and Solvychegodsk. In the 18th century it was developed by Petersburg artists, and in the second half of that century finift’ production moved to Rostov. Picked up by folk masters, this art acquired vivid original character and turned into one of the most famous Russian arts and crafts. Rostov finift’ with its own history and rich traditions is considered to be the best in Russia.
Initially Rostov finift’ masters got orders from large monasteries; hence the prevailing theme of painting. Miniature enamel icons made there were distributed all around Russia and exported abroad. Besides mass production items they also painted miniature plates to decorate settings of gospel books, holy vessels, and headgears of priests. Works by old finift’ masters can be seen in the museum reserve of the Rostov Kremlin.
From the second half of the 19th century Rostov masters made enamels for private customers also. These were portraits and replicas of famous foreign paintings. The year 1900 saw the opening of a Rostov finift’ school that launched painting on enamel of jewelry.
In 1960 Rostov Finift Factory producing hand-painted enamels was founded. Nowadays it has grown into a large-scale enterprise, with its production having the call in the international market.