Decor in Bukhara’s municipal architecture

Issue #4 • 844

Bukhara’s decor of the late 19th – early 20th c., having in a basis many century old experience of the Uzbek national masters resulted in a brightly expressed style is one of the most unique and original in Uzbekistan. A success of Bukhara’s designers was caused not just by their adherence to old traditions but much more by their relation to decor. They understood decor more as an integral part of architecture than just a simple set of definite ornamental patterns and motives.

Specialization, function and place of each detail determined synthesis of Bukhara’s decor with architectural structure, and in this sense it is very tectonic. Archival materials and drawings, some of which were inherited or copied but in most cases created by national designers living then, give information on Bukhara’s decor of the late 19th – early 20th centuries. Now they are reserved in the collection of the Bukhara State Museum-Reserve of Architecture and Art and in family archives.

Separate sheets of locally manufactured paper are glued up together in a form of notebooks, which contain point-contour drawings of plants and flowers, sketches of brick mosaics, projections and drawings of decorative arches, domes and cornices. In addition, in these notebooks there are carefully done pictures exposing fine forms of leaves, branches, sketches of medallions etc. It is worthy to be noted a notebook of Bukhara’s national master – Khasandjon. Unlike drawings of elder masters, his drawings are done as linear schemes. Among the drawings there are decor designing of the mausoleum of Bayankulikhan (the 14th c.), medreseh of Kukeldash and Abdullah – khan (the 16th c.).

Our interest was drawn to a notebook of the national master, Usto Karomatjon containing stencils, sketches and pictures typical of Bukhara’s decor in the early 20th century. Motives from this notebook can be classified in a few groups as follows:

  • a floral pattern islimi for decoration of tympans and kaym. It consists of stylized leaves and branches, which are placed in a proper order (composition and rhythm). In the case of carving it indicates to a method of surface working out, and in the case of painting – to location of colors;
  • Pictures of jugs, bowls, vases and teapots. All these usual elements of still life are interpreted as ornament;
  • Pictures of stylized bushes, trees and flowers;
  • Sketches of flowers and fruit – bushes on small sheets. Here a focus is on harmonious composition, rhythm of lines and branches. Starting rough facing works (gachkhok), national masters using gypsum borders divided walls, a lower part, panel and middle part, into big and small panels, which were separated with narrow strips, and a cornice was formed from gypsum blocks put on each other. In upper sections of niches was installed a rough variant of future stalactite made of floated plates. These elements were important parts in decor of rooms and aivans. It was just the first stage of decoration, but when financial funds were in deficit, this stage could have been the last. A room decorated in this way looked a bit simple and even rough but thanks to precise planning and accordance of each detail it looked rather impressively.

    In one-frame rooms because of impossibility to install wall niches of gypsum plates they did built – in niches – minoh. Cornices in such rooms were edged with stalactites of “tunuk”, “tesaknok” and “imom kozikhon” types. In two – frame rooms niches were styled in shell – shaped cells (tokchabandi) used for storage of tableware.

    A next stage of decorative works in rooms provided clean facing of wall surfaces with white gypsum (gulganch), carving and painting. A geometric ornament or medallions covered panels. In the middle part of the wall, in upper and lower sections of big panels the elements of “kitab” and “la’li” changed each other. Arch tympans of these panels were usually decorated with vegetative patterns. Carving and painting covered surfaces of arch-shape niches, and stalactite arch of “kolibkori”, “mukarnas” and “iroki” type topped off the wall.

    At the end of the 19th century into decoration of Bukhara’s dwelling houses came a new decorative method, probably, under the influence of painting – carving on gypsum was covered with local paints based on albumen, and later with exported oil paints. This decoration became very popular especially in houses of rich people. In this style was decorating a sitting room in a quarter of arabon. Finally, festoon arches as elements of macro geometric ornaments (ghirich) are alternating with relief pictures of white flowers on centerpieces. Colorful background and festoon arch create a full illusion of natural flowers in the vase.

    At the beginning of the 20th century, in the decorative design of dwelling houses the painting became popular. Unlike laborious and expensive gypsum carving, the painting was cheap and even an ordinary citizen could decorate his modest house by the painting. The painting came into decoration of one – frame rooms. It was done above a thin layer of white gypsum primer and covered almost entire surface of a w all. In this way was decorated a house of a former tea seller, Kholboi that was decorated with painting. A panel imitates a stone rough facing. On the large panels there are pictures of big flowers in vases, which alternate with panels covered by geometrical ornaments imitating majolica. Below, in small panels (“la’li”) there are palms and flowering branches. In this case, a flat belt of medallions and pictures of small bunches of flowers alternating with the first ones changed volumetric stalactite cornices. Big and small bushes, branches and flower bunches look very naturally.

    Probably, all these things were connected with a general process in decorative applied art of Bukhara at the beginning of the 20th century when was growing common orientation to graphic and painting means. Although subject pictures in architectural painting in that period, as some scholars think, were foregoers of new genres in modern painting art, anyhow they could not cancel a leading role the ornamental painting had in architectural decor of dwelling houses.

    There are no doubts that huge experience in decorative design of dwelling houses that has been lately accumulated should be creatively used in modern architectural practice in independent Uzbekistan. Therefore, the study and generalization of materials concerning Bukhara’s decor of the late 19th – early 20th century is a vital scientific task. Moreover, in Bukhara as well as all over Uzbekistan are running huge construction and restoration works. Preservation and restoration of old buildings which have significant cultural value is insistent requirement of our time.

    Author: Bakhtier Buranov

 

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