Pencil box_Ornamental composition_Papier-mache, Pigment, Gold leaf, Lacquer
Ornamental pencil box composition using papier-mâché, pigments, gold leaf, and lacquer © Shohalil Shoyakubov

The Art of Lacquer Miniature in Uzbekistan

The art of lacquer painting of Uzbekistan has deep traditional roots. Lacquer had been used in Samarkand since the Temurids epoch (fourteenth to fifteenth centuries). These facts can be testified by miraculously preserved original ornamental medallions from papier-mâché in the interiors of Mosque Bibi-Khanim. Particular interest represents carved doors and completely restored golden-blue dome, at the interior of the main building of Gur-Emir, consisting of 998 papier-mâché elements (tosh qog’oz in Uzbek).

Furthermore, lacquer had been used also for decoration and preservation of wooden objects such as the 213 columns of Juma Mosque from the seventeenth century. Columns covered with lacquer from the historical area of Ichan-Kala in Khiva are also still preserved. Manuscripts, chairs from valuable wood, columns of mosques and houses, wooden cradles for babies, boxes, caskets, tables, national musical instruments, kalamdon (pen cases), and chess boards have been decorated with lacquer painting or covered with fine lacquer textures. The lacquer surfaces still shine as though they were wet. Lacquer works were durable enough to withstand environmental erosion and rarely exfoliated.

Lacquer miniatures are an important and traditional form of applied art of Uzbekistan requiring high levels of patience, technical skill, and knowledge. The pictures were painted by brush on the ground and included gold or bronze powder with cherry and apricot glue as an adhesive. Lacquer and glue used for papier-mâché prepared in several stages. The main motifs of papier-mâché paintings are derived from classical medieval miniatures and folklore. Contemporary miniaturists, like their medieval forebears, depict episodes from Firdavsi’s Shahnameh, Nizomi’s Khamsa, Jami’s Yusuf and Zulaikho, Navoi’s Farkhad and Shirin, Layli and Majnun, and other great works of Furqat and Khayyam. Between the mid-fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, this field reached high-level development, during which creative schools such as the Samarkand School of Miniature, the Khirot School of Miniature, and the Boburids’ School of Miniature were founded. In the seventeenth century, the Tashkent School of Artistic Painting was established, in which prominent artists—namely, Kamoliddin Bekhzod and Makhmud Muzakhib—continued the tradition. But internecine wars hindered development in lacquer miniatures, and ancient technology and traditions fell into oblivion.

By the beginning of the twentieth century lacquer art had disappeared almost entirely. Beginning in the 1980s, the fine art of lacquer miniature painting on papier-mâché was restored. The Usto Association was established by the Art Fund of the Artist Union of the Republic of Uzbekistan with the aim to preserve, develop, and revive calligraphy, miniatures on leather, and paper and lacquered miniatures after almost one hundred years. At the same time, the Lacquer Miniature Department opened at the Republican College of Art in Tashkent, in addition to the Musavvir Scientific-Production Centre of Folk Art being established. Today, the miniature painters of Musavvir’s creative team study the art heritage of the medieval Central Asian miniature masters.

In 1981 Shamakhmud Mukhamedjanov, whose creations are connected directly to restoring and developing contemporary miniature painting was invited to the lacquer miniature workshop of the Usto Association and made his first experimental works using tempera painting techniques with lacquer coverage. With the skilled application of color, plotline, and subject, he is a follower of ancient masters, but at the same time he is an innovator who realizing depictions with a contemporary outlook and technical considerations. His creative art served as a catalyst for a new phenomenon, forming a significant trend in Uzbek fine arts, with deep roots and a contemporary vision and professionalism of an innovative author.

Over the past ten to fifteen years, the craft workers of Uzbekistan have achieved outstanding results in decorative arts. The School of Lacquer Miniature Painting was established, and lacquer miniature began developing as a kind of artistic craft. Anvar Isroilov, a bearer of the tradition for more than thirty years, has contributed to developing this rare art form. His creative work is kept at the Museum of Applied Art and the K. Bekhzod Memorial Park Museum. His apprentices are mastering the techniques of lacquer miniature art.

Niyazali Kholmatov is also a follower of miniature painting traditions in the contemporary art. He uses different materials and many artistic technologies to experiment. Being a skilled connoisseur of many technological processes for material processing, he is also the founder restoring lacquered miniature art.

Miniature painting art of contemporary Uzbek artists is characterized by the perfectness of the artistic form and specific skill of reproducing. Fine lacquer miniature painting has become a unique art that must be safeguarded for younger generations. n

Shohalil Shoyakubov, Doctor of Philosophy in Art History
Saida Azimova, Senior Expert, National Commission of Uzbekistan for UNESCO

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