Bukhara gold embroidery is a miracle of art which holds a particular place among the numerous forms of art in Uzbekistan: delicate carving and painting on ganch and wood, tile-facing of monumental edifices, skilfully-worked metal and leather, carpets and decorative fabrics, and ceramics of consummate mastery.
From time immemorial things that make life more beautiful have brought joy to people. The aesthetic value of embroidery in gold has always been greater than the age-long and pitiful value of the materials used, although it is primarily their price that converts the articles into a national treasure. The skill of the master who created things of aesthetic and material value is retained in them forever. That is why the significance of perfectly made articles of this kind is intransigent.
Gold embroidery in Bukhara has a style of its own, and its best specimens came into being where the great masters found patterns which were logic in composition, figurative in needlework and masterly performed.
Works of art of this kind stand out and create a school of popular applied art – a school which all creators of things of beauty have striven to compete with and which should be an example for them in future.
Despite the antiquity of gold embroidery in Bukhara, nearly all the specimens found are believed to date from XIX and early XX centuries. No earlier articles have been found to date. There are no more than about one thousand specimens of Bukhara gold embroidery in Soviet museums, while the number of oriental robes of the XIX and early XX centuries which are of particular artistic value, does not exceed 300.
One might mention that the USSR Is not the only custodian of pieces of gold embroidery made in Bukhara.
The entire collection of gold embroidery came into possession of Soviet museums after the Great October Socialist Revolution (1920’s-1930s) as a result of nationalization of the property of the Russian and Bukhara rulers. In later years the collections were replenished by the museums’ scientific workers.
The greater part of the gold embroidery of Bukhara can be found in the museums of Uzbekistan. The Tashkent State Museum of Fine Arts possesses a rich and closely-studied collection of it, as well as a fine inventory which was scientifically prepared in 1940 by P. A. Goncharova – a connoisseur in this “art.
Embroidery in gold is presented fully enough at the Bukhara Museum of Local Lore, Museum of the History of the Peoples of Uzbekistan after M. T. Aibek in Tashkent, and at the Museum of the History and Arts of the Peoples of Uzbekistan in Samarkand.
The Museum of Applied Arts of Uzbekistan possesses a rich and unique collection of modern embroidery in gold. Its articles permit us to trace the creative search of the masters and make us familiar with new forms of this fine art. All of these works were done by the masters of the Bukhara Gold-Embroidery Factory after “The 40th Anniversary of the October Revolution”.
The collections of gold embroidery at the Leningrad Hermitage, Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography after Miklukho-Maklai, and Museum of Ethnography of the Peoples of the USSR – are mainly clothes and splendid harness adornments embroidered in gold, which were gifts of Bukhara emirs to Russian czars and nobility.
The Moscow Museum of Art of the Peoples of the Orient has a collection of articles embroidered in gold, which were presented by the Emir to the Czar of Russia and members of his family.
All these collections are of great artistic value. The finest works of this rare form of decorative-applied art are the outcome of laborious work, gift and taste for art on the part of many generations of gold-embroiderers.
Historical literature and finds of archeologists testify to the fact that embroidery in gold was known to the inhabitants of rural areas of Central Asia in ancient times. The old masters still remind us of a legend which has it that gold embroidery was known before silk: first it was done on leather, karbos and wool, later – on silk and velvet.
An archeological expedition headed by M. E. Vorontsov found traces of gold embroidery on women’s garments in the Tashkent Region, which date back to the I – II centuries A. D. “Threads of pure gold were found scattered at the waist and on the chest. Among them were fragments of patterns done in the form of volutions which adorned some part of the clothes”.
Sources, elucidating the conquest of Sogd by the Arabs, note the abundance of gold embroidery on the garments of the war elite in Sogd as for back as the VIII century. In the X – XVI centuries numerous historical data such as written sources and miniatures testify to the great progress reached in decorative weaving and gold embroidery in Samarkand, Bukhara and Herat. By the XVII century gold-embroidery was done on an organised basis. The historian Melikho imparted that there was a whole block of houses with gold embroiderer in Samarkand.
In later times this form of art in Uzbekistan was continuously connected with Bukhara which became the capital of the Sheibanids as far back as XVI century.
Bukhara was inhabited by splendid popular masters of ganch-carving and metal chasing, famous jewellers, ceramists, book-binders and illustrators. The hand-made works of art, created by the artisans, were taken to the towns and cities of the Middle East and Europe. Bukhara became the abode of many popular masters who erected amazing architectural monuments thanks to which Bukhara is rightfully cabled a museum-town of national architecture.
The art of embroidery in gold has won worldwide fame. One of the great masters of this form of art was Fitrat Zar-dus (1664-1721) who was known as a poet, a witty and modest person.
Those, who were engaged in gold-embroidery as well as other forms of Central-Asian decorative handicraft, were united in guilds. In the main this was a form of art in which only men were engaged. However, it is known that many masters shared their knowledge and skill with their wives and daughters. They apparently mastered decorative stitching with perfection and were gifted workers, helping their husbands with rush orders. All the same they were unknown at the workshops, being spoken of as somebody’s wife or daughter.
The process of training embroiderers in gold was a traditional one. Chiefly boys of relatives, and sons of the masters themselves, rarely strangers, were the ones who were taken on. The apprenticeship often lasted years. Having mastered the trade and received the title master – “usto”, some of the apprentices became wage workers (khalfa), others set up workshops of their own.
Developing in feudal conditions, the art of gold embroidery in Bukhara assumed a privileged position, but it was done with the hands of diligent popular masters who were full of creative imagination. Practically all the articles made in the workshops were used as adornments for the Emir, the nobility of the court, and for their wives, and only very few articles were embroidered to order for the prosperous.
Embroidery in gold extensively developed in Bukhara in the 1? century. The magnificent household articles of the mir’s court, and the custom of presenting robes of great value – led to orders being placed on a large scale. All this was an incentive for the development of this art. In the reign of Muzafar-khan (1860-1885) a big court-workshop was set up in Ark – the Emir’s residence. It was located on the premises of the kushbegi and filled the Emir’s most responsible orders. About 20 masters worked in the shop, some of whom had a court rank. All of them were paid for their work.
During the reign of Abdulakhatkban (1885-1911) the number of workshops rose to three. One of them was in Ark (at kushbegi) and two were in Khauzi-Murdustum where all the other embroiderers in gold lived and worked. At the time when Alim-khan (1911-1920) yielded power all the major orders were filled by a workshop which was in charge of the “Zakatchi-kolon” and more than 20 big private workshops. The biggest of them was that of Kori-Khasan in which such experienced masters as usto Mirza, usto Yusuf, Khodja Asror, Ochildi, Baidjon, Abdusalim, Mirza Akram and Barot worked.
In the XIX and early XX centuries gold embroidery in Bukhara was mainly done on velvet, chamois leather and wool, seldom on silk. The velvet was of high quality and of the finest dressing. In XIX century it was brought into the counry from Persia, Turkey, India, Syria and France. “Bakhmal-makhmal” – a kind of velvet made in Bukhara – was also used. More desirable were green, red, violet and blue velvet. The finest-spun muslim (doka) was used in embroidering turbans in gold for the ishans and even for the Emir himself.
The masters of Bukhara used different (depending on the way they were made) gold and silver threads (drawn and spun) known as “kalebatun”. In the XIX century gold and silver threads were brought in from Russia. The “sim” plane-drawn thread, which was either made in Bukhara or brought from India and Persia in early and mid XIX century, is believed to be the oldest. All the metal threads used in embroidering in gold were fastened with the help of “pechak” cotton thread of the same colour as the embroidery.
In Bukhara articles embroidered in gold were ornamented with precious and semi-precious stones: diamonds, emerald, pearl and sapphire. Jewelry was widely used: silver, gold and gilded plates of various forms – round, multiangular and diamond-shaped, ornamented with chasing, filigree and stamping. The most popular were little round metal “kubba” domes made of silver with gild, and spangles-“pulyakchi” small circles with a hole in the middle, into which the fastening thread was run through).
Judging by the gold embroidery of the XIX and early XX centuries in the possession of museums, the masters of Bukhara basically made use of two methods of sewing: “zarduzi-za-minduzi” – entirely covering the fabric – and “zarduzi-gul-duzi” – sewing flower designs to a cut-out pattern.
While using the “zaminduzi” method, the entire surface is embroidered. This creates the impression that the master has made a lavishly designed texture of fabric, and not a decorative pattern. The fastening stitches form diverse patterns whose names are given to the stitches.
There are scores of various decorative stitches which originate from ancient times. Skilful use of stitches produces a wonderful effect on embroidery in gold. They show up the aesthetic property of the ornament and its plasticity.
A study of existing articles of XIX century Bukhara embroidery in gold revealed that all the patterned stitches used in that period have become classical, and in them reflected are the traditions, artistic culture and skill of the zarduz.
The qualities of the embroideries in gold, just as any work of applied art, from the artistic standpoint, are determined by three traits – compositions – methods of spreading the design over the article, the nature of the ornament and way of executing it, and merit of the colouring. Naturally, the decorative means (composition, ornamentation1 and colouring) were used with due regard for the semblance and purpose of the article.
Three main types of compositions of embroidery in gold, known as “daukur”, “butador” and “darkham”, became historically established by the XIX century.
An ornamented fringe embroidered in gold formed the basis of the “daukur” composition (“davrikur” means circular). It differed in width, being wide and magnificent, or narrow, but with less decorative design. The ornament was particularly decorative when the entire fringe (or separate elements of it) was arranged with decorative stitches of gold and silver threads, coloured silk, appliquees, and precious stones. The composition of the design on the back of the “Tauk” robe – a medallion embroidered in gold – is very imposing. Sometimes precious stones were used for ornamenting the medallion.
With the exception of army full-dress coats on nearly all the oriental robes with the “daukur” composition the design of the fringe corresponded to the pattern of the medallion on the back of the robe, though enlarged in proportion and made up of elements included In the composition of the fringe. This peculiar arrangement was not typical of the masters of Bukhara. Such “kalyuchi” robes (army full-dress coats) were only presented by the Emir to officers of the highest rank.
The “Butador” composition arranged the design over the entire surface of the velvet article with separate motifs, which were not interconnected. The main decorative motifs were vegetable designs, geometric patterns being less frequent. Bushes and bunches of flowers were evenly distributed over the entire velvet surface and played a considerable role in the decoration, while the “kur” fringe united the design into a single-whole. Articles with the “butador” composition were embroidered with the use of “gulduzi” technique, which was done on a design cut out of cardboard, or combined “gulduzi-zaminduzi” method, in which the entire background harmonized with the design.
Articles with a “butador” composition were very expressive and smart. The flowers on bushes were executed m bright appliques; the emerald-green leaves were sewn with the “shirozi” stitch, which brought on amazing iridescence.
At times different “nishon” decorations were used in the “butador” composition as an alternative to “chilyolyak” vegetable designs. They were evenly distributed over the whole surface similar to the bushes. They were sewn with the “gulduzi-zaminduzi” technique, and occasionally in coloured silk in combination with motifs executed in gold with the “zarduzi-birishimduzi” method.
The “darkham” (which means “interlacing”) composition was used in making magnificent and rich attire, which was embroidered in gold throughout. The intricate interlacing of the ornament formed a splendid surface in relief.
While using the “darkham” composition in the embroidery of apparel in gold, the masters of Bukhara primarily strove to produce an intricate design and make the gaudy gold and silver texture stand out. With that end in view they enlisted all the rich store of decorative motifs and subtle techniques. Great skill, experience and talent, as well as individuality of the masters, are fully apparent in the robes, horse-cloth and other articles of the “darkham” type. This kind of work was only executed by the most experienced masters.
“Darkham” was a compositional form destined for designing the attire of the emirs of Bukhara and their spouses.
Fem rodes with the “darkham” composition are in existence today. However, they testify to the incredulous beauty and splendour of the articles, which are typical of the old Bukhara school of embroidery in gold.
In designs done with the “darkham” method vegetable compositions prevailed; sometimes linear-geometrical compositions with a diamond-shaped laying out of the entire surface were used.
Every article embroidered in gold was executed with a different composition and method, and had a semblance and peculiarity of its own, but possessed invariable beauty.
Research of articles embroidered in gold by unknown masters of remarkable skill has led so the conclusion that their creators had founded an independent school of this fine branch of applied art.
The Great October Socialist Revolution opened a new chapter in the history of gold embroidery in Bukhara. The destiny of popular decorative domestic craft changed radically. A new customer appeared which conditioned an entire change in the gold-embroiderers, system of work.
In the initial years of Soviet power the demand for articles with embroidery in gold sharply dropped. There were no raw materials. Only a few masters occasionally worked to order, using low-standard substitutes. From time to time in Bukhara there appeared alterations done in old articles with embroideries in gold. In the 1930s gold-embroidery shops were set up in the “Krasnaya Zhenshchina”, “Mikhnatkash” “Krasny Shveinik” small producers’ artels and in those named after Stalin and Akhunbabayev. In 1939 all the separate shops were amalgamated into the “40th Anniversary of the October Revolution” artel. In the 1940s there were already over 70 masters working in the specialized artel as against 13 most of them were women. The teachers of the new generation of embroiderers in gold were men, XIX century masters – Nugman Aminov, Rakhmat Mirzayev, Saifutdin Sagdul-layev, who readily shared their rich experience in art with women. At factory apprenticeship schools boys and girls learnt their mastership from Abdurasul Vasiyev and Gulyarn Mukhamedov.
In 1960 the “40th Anniversary of the October Revolution” artel was reorganized into the Bukhara Gild-embroidery Factory with more than 400 masters working, nearly, all of whom were women.
In Soviet times the nature of embroidery in gold has changed radically. The usual kind of court-attire with embroidery in gold, together with those who wore it, has become a thing of the past. The former lucidity of historically formed compositions and their social discrimination have also disappeared. It was necessary to search for new forms and solutions for the art of embroidery in gold so as to embody them with both tradition and the present. This search was not an easy one, which can be witnessed by the embroideries in gold, created in the last 30 years.
The creative team-work of professional artists and masters of embroidery in gold has led to a new decorative trend in Bukhara gold-embroidery as to form and purpose, which is reflected in “stately-form” pieces with a massive arrangement – unique multimetre thematic and decorative panels. Many of them have become part of the most valuable collections of Soviet decorative-applied art, and are national property. They adorn the expositions of Soviet museums, and are a success at all exhibitions and reviews of items of this kind. Some of them are in the custody of museums in India, Indonesia, China and Sri Lanka.
In recent years they have created beautiful designs for skull-caps, and embroidered vests, girdles and fancy-bags.
The latest achievements in science and technology have brought new materials to life. All this sets one thinking and creating in a new way.
A difficult but lofty task has been set before the gold-embroiderers of Bukhara today – to retain the rare and precious beauty of their art so that many generations of descendants would be able to revel in the creations of man.