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Horses of Fiery Colour

Nov 27 2013

Horses of Fiery ColourCoat of Arms of Zlatoust

are galloping like mad. Carrying you away from a cozy house, a green garden, a quiet happiness. Who could pull them up short?

Over the horses hovers the crown. Impossible to describe it better than Pavel Bazhov did: “... and this crown has tilted back just a littlest bit, as a Bashkir on a horse when he is galloping full pelt… So Ivanko reckoned and made wings for those horses: lo and behold – the drawing flowed even better into the wootz patterns. He fixed the drawing and plated it with gold, using grandfather’s secret method.”

Everything which is in any way connected to the history of Zlatoust steel engraving is shrouded in never ending legends. On the one hand, German masters invited to Zlatoust to teach local craftsmen an art of weapon decoration, prided themselves of their skills – for example, fire-gilding. On the other hand, their secrets were thousands of years old: the method of applying gold mixed with mercury was known since ancient times; this is how Scythian jewelers created earrings.

Unfortunately, museum of local history tells nothing about blade drawing as a traditional craft of native people - the Bashkirs. They are presented as simple nomad tribe immersed in hunting, fishing and wild bee-keeping, which spent the time free from their primary activities smelting iron and copper using crude techniques. Human memory did not preserve the origins of antique weapons. Only “Excursion” notes about mining director of Zlatoust plants - an outstanding metallurgic engineer and experimenter Pavel Anosov - would mention by chance that: “Once Anosov found a blade on Taganay. Nobody knew how many years it was lying there or how it ended up on the mountain. But it didn’t rust and never lost its fighting qualities. Since then Anosov was obsessed by one idea - to reproduce an Eastern wootz, firm and supple at the same time, bearing wavy pattern and cutting when sharpened”.

Or, as Bazhov said: “Not a wealthy people of course, but easily having a horse or a sword of an unforgettable kind. Sometimes they would show you, on a knife or a sabre, such an ornament of antique craftsmanship, that you would long afterwards see it in your dreams”.

In 1828 Ivan Bushuev – the most talented apprentice of German armorers and the creator of Zlatoust steel engraving style – was commissioned a sabre to commemorate the Battle of Varna. Over the velvety blue polished etched surface, the golden pattern represented an assault on the fortress carried by Russian troops by land and by sea. Nicholas I presented the saber to Prince Wilhelm I. 115 years on, during the Great Patriotic war, Russian soldiers found the sabre in the yard of Prussian kings: looking as if it was forged just yesterday, clean, sharp, “of incomparable beauty and wondrous design”. They returned it to its native country. (Incidentally, there were precisely 115 master armorers invited from Solingen and Klingenthal into Ural in 1815 - quite a peculiar coincidence!).

At the end of 1977, a knife dated 1856 made its way from Armenia to Zlatoust museum of local history. It was most likely custom made: the hilt is shaped as a dog head fashioned from grey-green cut Ural jasper; instead of ears, there are fantastical tree leaves. The hilt leads to a figured hand guard made from cast copper; plants crawl along the curved smoothness of the blade, and animals, and birds…. This is an oriental fairy-tale recreated in Ural. There is no name on the steel blade. Undoubtedly, this is a work of a local master – its manner, style and pattern are unmistakable. But the master’s identity is unknown.

Legend is following legend. Romantic mysteries and happy coincidences, fictions and pedantically recorded facts: how a German needle was replaced by an artist’s brush which determines the prominence of design’s relief after etching; how a blade was “embroidered” by golden and silver threads…. Telling and listening may last for ever.

It is difficult to separate legend from history. Do we even need it? One thing is clear: an unspoilt Pegasus served the talented lad Ivan Bushuev as a prototype of a strong, proud horse symbolizing Zlatoust coat of arms, flying along the blade of steel weapons, both ancient and modern. Ivanko was driven by an impetuous dream: to escape the deadening hopelessness, to master the basics of art and, perfecting it, to tell the world what the real beauty is like....

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