The folk art of bone carving originated in northern Russia more than four hundred years ago. The most famous center of bone carving was a town located near Arkhangelsk – Kholmogory. The raw materials for fishing were the bones of seals, fish, and walruses. They also used ordinary tubular cow bone – the tarsus, ennobling it with special processing and tinting. In the 19th century, carvers also used expensive imported ivory for important orders.
Kholmogory craftsmen created amazing boxes, caskets, snuff boxes, miniature secretaries, decorative cups, plates with portraits, bracelets and sets for toiletries, decorating them with engraving, toning and openwork carvings reminiscent of lace or frosty patterns.
In early works, bone plates were decorated with engraving in the form of an eye-shaped ornament, which was common among northern peoples since ancient times. The ornament was a circle with a dot in the center. Sometimes the engraved eye ornament was rubbed with bronze powder. Over time, the patterns became more complex, incorporating natural and geometric shapes. Often the ornament created a background on which small plot compositions were depicted. The basis for large products, such as caskets or icons, were wooden blanks onto which carved bone panels were attached. Sometimes, if the pattern was through, openwork, foil was placed under the bone panel or the wood was tinted dark in order to better highlight the pattern.
Kholmogory masters mastered the art of portraiture, creating images of royalty and commanders using relief techniques with skillful elaboration of details. Small objects were often decorated with carved portraits: snuff boxes, medallions, mugs.
The names of the majority of Kholmogory carvers of the 18th-19th centuries, who created utilitarian products that decorated the life of our ancestors, are, as a rule, not known. But there are also highly artistic objects with established authorship, commissioned by the imperial court for diplomatic gifts. Some such works are now in the Hermitage collection. One of the most famous master bone carvers of the 17th century was Osip Khristoforovich Dudin (1714-after 1785), a native of the Dvinsky district of the Arkhangelsk province, who later worked in St. Petersburg.
The mug is decorated with 58 portraits of Russian rulers from Rurik to Catherine II. Diplomatic gifts, as a rule, included state symbols and portraits of reigning persons, copied from official medals and paintings.
An outstanding master bone carver of the next generation, Nikolai Stepanovich Vereshchagin (1770-1813), served his entire life at the Arkhangelsk customs, and carved in his free time. It is known that in 1801 he traveled to St. Petersburg for a month, and in 1803 Alexander I awarded him a precious personalized ring for his bone-carving work.