Veliki Ustyug (northern) niello
Veliki Ustyug city became world famous because of its «northern niello». Niello is an alloy of silver with copper, lead and sulphur. This powered composition is rubbed into the grooves of the pattern engraved on a silver object. During burning the niello firmly melts with the silver surface arising a black graphic drawing. It is amplified with an engraving, chasing or gilding of the background. The firmness of a silver bond and the shade of the black color depends on the way of production of niello and a proportion of its components. The Ustyug people had their own secret of components composition. The northern niello differs by its firmness and rich colors – fr om an ash-grey to deep black.
As it is known silver niello «lives» in Russian art since the times of the Kievan Rus'. In 16-17th centuries this art was mostly well developed in Moscow. Among three historically developed centers of niello art – Moscow, Dagestan and Veliki Ustyug – the latest differs by a high level of work and a refined delicacy of the articles. Even in the 17th century silver jewelers worked in Veliki Ustyug but the highest growth of niello art in this city referred to the 18th century when baroque style ruled over.
The art of the northern niello of the period of 18-19th centuries can’t be regarded as a professional art. It took an intermediate position between a professional and folk art with exclusively steady local art traditions neutralizing the influence of the epoch styles. The articles of the Ustyug masters are very massive, the forms with smooth outlines and rounded corners are plastic that is well combined with the softness of the engraving making an impression of plasticity of the drawing of the niello.
Later on, at the beginning of the 19th century, the ruling classicism style revealed in the northern niello art. In the articles of the Ustyug masters producing niello a gold background typical to baroque style escaped, the drawing became austere and laconic. In the 2nd half of the 19th century niello lost its high level of the unique art. The decorative art gradually turned into a craft and at the beginning of the 20th century northern niello stopped its being. Only single masters from Veliki Ustyug preserved the secrets and professional skills. But the unique art didn’t’t escape completely. Even on the eve of the World War II cooperative «Northern niello» was founded. Now «Northern niello» is a big company wh ere skilled designers using the best traditions of niello production fruitfully develop them making articles that are in great demand and very successful in many countries of the world.