The Russian tiled stoves is a unique and self-sufficient phenomenon. The stove in the Russian house has always been a “thing in itself” – everything began and ended on it, it was the alpha and omega of any house, many beliefs and legends were associated with it. The Russian stove was even a hero of folklore. “In one ancient riddle-parable it is said: “In a warm kingdom there is a stone cave, and in the cave there is a fierce serpent; and as the cold enters that realm, the serpent will spin up, and a flame of fire will start coming out of his mouth and smoke will curl from its ears, and sparks will pour out of its eyes. ” It is not difficult to guess that in this riddle, abundant with metaphorical images, we are talking about a Russian stove which is compared with a stone cave. The warm kingdom is a peasant hut with a stove,” wrote about the Russian stove Gennady Fedotov, a man who devoted his life to the study of Russian crafts and wrote many books about stoves.
Russian sayings and proverbs are full of references to the stove, and in what context: “Dance from the stove” (means to start at the very beginning), “Smart is the peasant – he built a hut on the stove”, “Saying that there is a stove in a hut is saying good words”, “Say goodbye to the sun in October, get closer to the stove”, “One is cold without a stove and hungry without bread”. The furnace did not only heat, it was used for cooking, for washing, it was the place where people stayed to overcome illness and where they made love, it was the center of the house and its keeper.
This, however, is not surprising, since the Russian climate has never been mild and the presence of a good warm stove was the key to a family’s survival in harsh winters. The stoves were worshiped and were given a sacred meaning as a conductor of fire – the main pagan deity of the Russians. Often the stove was humanized, endowed with the ability to talk, like in The Magic Swan Geese fairy tale, and also later, in particular, in a modern cartoon Vovka in the Far Far Away Kingdom. People said about the oven: “The stove feeds, the stove warms, the stove is a mother.”
The structure of the Russian stove makes it assume many functions: a hearth for cooking, and also a sort of a bench to sleep in the warmth. This is the main difference between Russian stoves and European and Mediterranean ones. The European stove was primarily part of the heating system and an element of the decor in a room. Mediterranean ovens were used mainly for cooking. But the Russian stove was “many in one”: a stove, a bed, a heating device, a bath, an element of decor and the main dwelling of a home deity and patron of the family – a domovoy. Incomplete analogues of the Russian stove exist only in Scandinavia, where the climate is similar, therefore the traditional way of life was similar as well.
From the 8th to the 13th centuries, stoves made of large stones without the use of any bonding agent predominated in Northern Russia. The stones were so well selected that they tightly clang to each other. Such stoves did not have chimneys, so all the smoke came out through the door, which had its advantages in terms of disinfecting the home: hot smoke “fried” the walls and ceiling in the hu drying and disinfecting it, which was important for fighting germs and insects.
Only by the XV century first chimneys appeared, which by the beginning of the XVII century began to be made of fire-resistant bricks and the whole structure took on the form that we now call the Russian stove.
And since the Ancient Rus people put sacred meaning to the oven, adorning the object of their worship soon became a task of great importance. The stove, as the center of the house, or just a fairly large structure, needed decoration.
Early tiled stoves were decorated with terracotta tiles, often the stove was assembled from self-supporting tiles and in the end the concept of a tiled stove appeared, suggesting that tiles are the main building material of such a stove.
The 17th century was the peak of tile art in Russia. We wrote more about this in our article The History of the Russian Tile – from the Christianization of Russia to the Silver Age.
Many colorful and glazed tiles adorned Russian tiled stoves. The Moscow Kremlin has a large collection of Russian tiled stoves. Very interesting tiled stoves are installed in the Novodevichy monastery in the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. In general, a lot of them were preserved to varying degrees of safety, largely due to the asceticism of museum staff and restorers. One of the largest collections of Russian tiled stoves is located in Kolomenskoye, where MGOMZ (Moscow State United Museum and Reserve) restorers made very high-quality reconstructions. These furnaces have become a symbol and colorful monument of Boyar Rus – an era that perished in the time of Peter the Great.
The Russian stove underwent drastic changes in the beginning of the 18th century with the decree of Peter forbidding the construction of smokey (without chimneys) fire-hazard stoves, which was very timely, because the cities were burning and fires caused great damage. At the same time, the first regulations on the construction of stoves in residential buildings and the industrial manufacture of bricks, tiles and other stove elements were published. In the same period, at the behest of Peter, the production of ‘Dutch’ tiles, which were new to Russia, was launched – white tiles painted with cobalt. Peter’s order was: “to immediately make the Swedish style of the stove tiles in smooth white, and on them paint with blue paint.”
By the middle of the XVIII century, Russia produced the largest number of tiled stoves in Europe. And by the end of the century, the scientific foundations of furnace design were laid. The architects who developed the most energy-efficient designs of stove heating systems were Nikolai Lvov with his work Russian Pyrostatics and Ivan Ivanovich Sviyazev who wrote Theoretical Foundations of Stove Art, in which he published a methodology for calculating the size of chimneys and cross sections of gas channels. These architects theoretically substantiated the design techniques of furnace heating systems, and also invented their original fireboxes and stoves. Professor Silviush Boleslavovich Lukashevich published the Heating and Ventilation Course, where, in the section on furnace heating, he outlined the theory of calculating heating furnaces.
The production of white tiles and the change in the method of smoke removal led to a transformation in the structure of urban furnaces. Such purely heating thick-walled stoves began to be called Dutch, which is not entirely correct, since they appeared for the first time in Russia, and from there they got to Europe. Be that as it may, Dutch ovens gained ground in cities in many respects due to their thermal efficiency. Installed in each room of a house or apartment, interconnected by a complex heating system, they became an excellent source of heating for rather large premises. In particular, such furnaces were installed in the Grand Catherine Palace. The stoves of the Grand Catherine Palace should be discussed separately, since, like the Moscow tiled stoves of the late 17th century, they symbolize a whole era.
The ideas of creating an empire in Russia, not inferior in its influence and brilliance to the largest European empires, have always been in the air. A city to respond to this idea was St. Petersburg, which, in addition to being the “window to Europe”, became the first fully planned ‘European’ city in Russia. The numerous palaces erected by Peter and his descendants in St. Petersburg surpassed the European ones in their splendor, and the palace and park ensembles of Peterhof are not in any way inferior to the famous French Versailles in their beauty.
The main heyday of the arts, caused by the luxury of the then-ruling class of nobles, fell on the reign of Elizabeth (Elizaveta) Petrovna. This period of Russian art even got its own name – Elizabethan Baroque. The main representative of this movement was the architect F.B. Rastrelli, whose name is sometimes used to call the Elizabethan style – the Rastrelli baroque.
The Elizabethan baroque, in contrast to the previous Petrine baroque, took into account the achievements of Russian art, preserving in its silhouettes the traditions of the Orthodox temple architecture. The Tsarskoye Selo and Peterhof buildings of Rastrelli were the logical result of what had happened here before him. His work was completely subordinated to the tastes of the empress, who loved brilliance, fun and luxury.
The Elizabethan era became an exceptionally wholesome period of a vivid manifestation of Rococo ideals. Applied art, architecture and painting achieved the highest level of craftsmanship and were applied in many palaces built and reconstructed.
« Elizabeth Petrovna renovated all the buildings and brought the palace to such a degree of perfection that it could easily compete, especially with its fountains, with Versailles and Marly. » Mechislav Pilsudsky, 1857
Of great interest are the tiled stoves of the 18th century, of which many are in the Catherine Palace. By the time of these furnaces’ construction, brick factories producing tiles had already been operating in Russia for a long time. There were deposits of good clay in Strelna, where the factories were situated. By 1722, up to 3.5 million bricks per year were fired in Strelna kilns. At the Strelinsky Pottery Plant, dishes, utensils and tiles were made of white enamel and painted with blue paints. The plots were all the same, all Dutch – mills, ships, landscapes, canals and others. You can read more about the Delft style in our article on Dutch tiles.
The tiles of the furnaces in the Great Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo were made in the Dutch style with plot paintings in white and blue enclosed in beautiful ornamental frames. The stoves of the Cavalier’s Dining Room, Buffet, Chinese Living Room and many other rooms of the Grand Palace were made in the same manner.
The White Dining Room is made in contrast to the abovementioned rooms – it is full of monochrome and matte textures. The white dining room was rebuilt in 1774 by the architect J.M. Felten, a supporter of classicism. The room was designed in the strict canons of classicism, and in its interiors there are elegant round tiled stoves of Russian production, lined with white glazed tiles with relief panels Music and Painting.
Despite the serious destruction during the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War, the palaces of Tsarskoye Selo and Peterhof are still a collection of outstanding works of art, as well as an eloquent witness of the feat of the Soviet restorers who participated in their restoration.
The secret of making tiles with underglaze painting had been lost, and the post-war restorers had to rediscover it. The main merit in this belonged to the architect A.E. Hessen, who initiatedthe manufacture of the tiles thus providing for the successfully implementation of the said work. Hessen solved the problem of completely restorating the tiles in the interiors of the Summer Palace of Peter the Great, in Monplaisir and in Marly in Peterhof.
For quite a long time, the tiled stoves was the main source of heat in Russian houses and city apartments. Only in the late 19th – early 20th centuries, with the invention of steam heating, they started to get replaced. In fact, nowadays, heating stoves are installed only in private houses and provided there is no main gas to install a gas boiler and water heating. More often a fireplace is installed in the house – for sybaritic meditation on fire and as a kind of prosperity sign. Nevertheless, there is quite a stable demand for furnaces. Often, customers are limited to a conventional brick stove, which is due not only to its lower cost, but also to the particular taste of contemporaries with their commitment to the ‘chalet’ style in the interior.
Tiled stoves began to return to use only in the last 15-20 years. There are not many companies on the market capable of manufacturing tiled stove cladding. In addition, modern customers have virtually no need for self-supporting tiles and stoves completely composed of such tiles. Therefore, now it is more of a question of manufacturing architectural ceramics and flat tiles. Although sometimes there are orders for real tiles with rumps (box-shaped protrusions on the reverse side).
Modern Russian tile manufacturing enterprises divide into several types: workshops producing a certain range of shapes and designs that are customized to the dimensions of the customer’s stove or fireplace; workshops that make individual claddings according to the customer’s sketches or create new designs; art workshops that produce works of authorship; and private ceramists.
In any of the listed workshops, the customer receives a product with a high degree of uniqueness, since there are no completely identical tiles and even within one set each tile will be different from the other. The difference between the workshops is not very significant and consists only in prices and the artistic component, and the latter, first of all, is a matter of education and taste of the artists and the customer. In any case, on the market now you can find tiled stoves and fireplaces that matche every taste. Let us give an example of several Russian workshops:
One of the largest in Russia, the Pallada company from St. Petersburg was founded by restoration Andrei Rodenkov and Konstantin Likholat. The company has restored a huge number of antique forms/molds of tiles of the North-West region. We wrote more about this in our article Finnish Stoves – the Tiled Wealth of the Northwest”.
Sergey Lebedev’s Ceramic Workshop is a company in Moscow, created based on the restoration workshops of the St. Andrew’s Monastery, which and also recreated a large number of historical tiles during the restoration. Very interesting are the works of the Tiled Stoves company “” in Kimry, founded by Alexander Chernyshev. It is a fairly large enterprise, specializing, as the name implies, in the manufacture of stove tiles from fireclay.
The ArtBazl company in the form of monumental painting and architectural ceramics workshops, is another company from St. Petersburg owned by ceramic artists Andrei Belyaev and Larisa Zakharova. These artists’ ceramic fireplaces are very complex and unusually beautiful.
The work of the « Lev and Sirin » family atelier from Zvenigorod, formed by the hereditary ceramists Kupriyanovs, is fabulously good. This is a completely authorial ceramic produce, with its own face, style and character.
We have listed far from all the ceramic workshops existing in Russia, however, the works of the mentioned companies and artists attract attention, excite the soul and delight the eye, which makes it possible to put them on a par with the best works of major masters of the past.