Lviv-Pysanky-art - 6/22/17
"A Brief Historical Timeline of Early Decorated Eggs and the Lviv Pysanky" by Mistress Kataryna Tkach, O.L. . A&S Documentation.
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Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
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A Brief Historical Timeline of
Early Decorated Eggs and
the Lviv Pysanky
by Mistress Kataryna Tkach, O.L.
March 7, 2014
AnTirKingdom Arts & Sciences Championship Single Entry
Table of Contents
A Historical Timeline of Decorated Eggs (Pysanky).
Analysis of the Lviv Egg
The replication of the Lviv egg
Table of Figures
Within the SCA there has been a pervading belief that the production of Pysanky is firmly in the era of the 1800's folk art movement. However, the Ukrainian cultural view is that these eggs have been part of religious practice since before the adoption of Christianity in the 10th century. This paper contains two parts, the first is a discussion of the existence of both egg and ceramic finds of which I am aware; the second part is a specific discussion regarding the replication of the 15-16th century Lviv pysanky find.
The traditional symbolism on these eggs has pagan roots, which evolved to include added Christian symbols. Some of the traditional symbols have been found on Trypillian pottery (4800BC-3000BC) and yet others are firmly rooted in the various Rus pagan tradition. While this makes a compelling case for the eggs being an older art form, the argument goes that people could have simply borrowed the symbols from what they saw on the old artifacts to produce eggs that had the feel of history. Apart from the symbolism there is a history of decorating eggs or egg shaped ceramics that starts with predynastic Egyptian ostrich eggs and spans a wide range of countries and times. This paper attempts to trace as much of the history and pre 1600's extant finds of egg decoration as I can find. If there are verified egg finds that I have not included in the timeline I would love to hear about them (drop me a message at kataryna_dragonweaver at yahoo dot com). I am putting together an online timeline of finds and would appreciate help filling in the holes.
Extant egg finds are particularly difficult to come by for a number of reasons. First egg shells tend to be particularly fragile and the dying process, which involves vinegar, makes them weaker. As anyone who has made these eggs knows they disintegrate even within the life of the maker unless stored with exceptional care. Prior to the Lviv egg find, all other batik egg finds within the Slavic states have all been tied to the ceramic resurrection eggs, with the exception of the Worclaw fragment. Second, the magical thinking around the eggs holds that you would break them or bury them to allow the wishes written into them to become reality. Third, as an archeological find an egg shell fragment might easily be overlooked or not catalogued in a manner that makes it easily found in a search of the literature. Add to those complications a researcher must search as many Slavic languages as possible and the various transliterations of the word pysanky (pisanki, pasanky, etc). The languages of the papers referenced in this document are Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, German, Bulgarian, Czechoslovakian, French, and English.
For this second part of this paper, I have an attempted a replication of the Lviv Pysanky, found just six months before this paper was written. As of the writing of this paper no in depth analysis of the Lviv egg has been published (in Ukrainian or otherwise), so there is no information on the possible dye used or size specifics apart from the picture, the dating mentioned in the press release, and the fact it is suspected to be a goose egg. With any single find this means a lot of trial and supposition must go into the creation of a replica. Replica also means an attempt not to make the perfect egg, but rather to match what I have done to the extant piece. To that end I attempted to replicate the correct tool marks and mimic not the colour, which I assume would have faded in the water collector the Lviv egg was found, but the seeming mottled pattern that seems to be part of the dye. By doing a replica I hoped to get a better appreciation of the most likely tools and dyes used on a period egg, rather than create a specific piece of art work.
A Historical Timeline of Decorated Eggs (Pysanky)
People have been decorating eggs since Neolithic times (Kantor, 1948). The oldest found decorated eggs are ostrich eggs from predynastic Egypt. These eggs were inscribed and a dark colourant was rubbed into the incisions to highlight them. In other cases they were painted with white dots (Kantor, 1948). Plant, animal and geometric designs were also used as decorations, Figure 1 (Kantor, 1948). These eggs were found as grave goods, and had small holes drilled into the bottoms of them, so it is unlikely that they would have been offerings of food to the dead, and would have had some other meaning (Kantor, 1948).
Figure 1: Predynastic Ostrich Egg (Oriental
Institute Museum 12322) Plate V (Kantor, 1948).
Interestingly, one egg found between 1930 and 1948 in Maadi, from predynastic lower Egypt dated to the 4th millennium, shows a pattern similar to the traditional (modern) Ukrainian forty triangles design, Figure 2 (Rizkana & Seeher, 1990).
Figure 2: Predynastic Egyptian Inscribed ostrich egg from (Rizkana & Seeher, 1990) compared to a modern forty triangles pysanky (Petrusha, Sorokoklyn - 40 Triangles Gallery)
The art of decorating eggs expanded to numerous cultures over the ages and many techniques have been used to decorate them. Though a number of ostrich eggs have been found, smaller eggs have not been well preserved, probably due to the fragility of their smaller size and thinner shells.
Among the ostrich egg finds are a set of painted eggs from the Etruscan Vulci tombs, in the tomb of Isis (625-550 BC), Figure 3 (Dennis, 1848). There are also notes of chickens' eggs being found in the graves of the Greeks (Dennis, 1848).
Figure 3: Painted eggs from the Etruscan Vulci tombs (Dennis, 1848).
From 500 BC onwards the more common finds are the various ceramic representations of eggs. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, has terracotta eggs dated to c. 420-410 BC from a tomb near Athens, Figure 4 (The Washing Painter, ca. 420–410 B.C.).
Figure 4: Terracotta oon (egg) of youth abducting woman. Attributed to the Washing Painter. H. 2 in. (5.1 cm) diameter 1 3/4 in. (4.5 cm). Greek, Attic, ca. 420–410 B.C. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Accession Number:1971.258.3.
Robert E. Hughes states that painted ostrich egg shell fragments were found in trench BE95/96-7 in the Berenike Project, which is a dig in the eastern Egyptian desert that is excavating the remains of Bernike, a harbour on the Red Sea coast active between the 3rd century BC and the 6th century AD, Figure 5 (Hughes, 2001). These ostrich egg shards were painted in red with Greek letters and a pentagram star (Zych & Sidebotham, 2010).
Figure 5: Ostrich eggs painted with a red motif. 3-6th century BC,
Berenike, Egypt (Zych & Sidebotham, 2010).
The earliest non-ostrich egg find is reported by Venetia Newall (Newall, Easter Eggs, 1968):
"... and eggs painted with stripes and dots were found in a Roman-Germanic burial at Worms, Germany, dated approximately A.D.320. 
91 Robert Wildhaber, Vom Osterei und der Technik des Eierfarbens (Paul Haupt, Bern, 1957), p. 2. (Contained in the Führer durch das Museum fir Volkerkunde und Schweizerische Museum für Volkskunde, Basel.)"
However, this report is not clear if these are egg shells or if they are the more commonly found ceramic resurrection eggs.
Ceramic resurrection eggs are common grave goods found between the 11th and 13th century AD Figure 6 and Figure 7. They are considered to have been made in Kiev or Chernihiv, and finds of the eggs are spread throughout the Scandinavian territories, the Baltics and Poland (Tkachuk, Kishchuk, & Nicholaichuk, 1977). According to Tkachuk the ceramic eggs were glazed, placed in a kiln and fired until the glaze was molten. The egg was then removed from the kiln and a second glaze was drawn through the molten first glaze to add colour and alter the design. The hot egg was then rolled on a smooth surface and returned to the kiln. The instrument used to apply the second glaze is described as "a funnel-shaped stylus dipped in the liquid glaze of the motif colour" (Tkachuk, Kishchuk, & Nicholaichuk, 1977), which sounds like the description of the kystka, a modern tool used to apply melted wax to wax-resist eggs. It is possible that Tkachuk's account does not describe the process exactly. In my experience, applying a wet glaze over a molten piece of pottery would result in spattering, would not give crisp lines, and could cause the egg to crack or even explode. It is more likely that both glazes were applied before firing and a metal tipped stylus used to drag the molten glazes across each other in the same manner as a barista makes designs in artisan coffees.
Figure 6: Resurrection Eggs from Top: Novgorod 10-11th century (Kolčin, Makarova, Belen'kaâ, & "Nauka.", 1997) and Bottom: Ceramic Easter egg, glazed, found in the Giecz dig in Wielkopolska, Poland found with 10th and 11th century items (Kostrzewski, 2000) .
Figure 7: Top: Resurrection eggs from other digs in Russia and Ukraine 10-12th century (Sovkopljas, 1980), and Bottom: Krakow 12-13th century (Szmoniewskiego & Tyniec-Kępińska, 2007)
Sophie Hodorowicz Knab in "Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore" states decorated eggs in Poland can be dated to the late 1200s, as they appear in the story of a miracle occurring at St. Hedwig's tomb in that time (Hodorowicz Knab, 1993):
"The oldest written knowledge of pisanki [decorated eggs] at the graveside was documented in the life of St. Hedwig, which was penned after her canonization in 1267. The many miraculous healings attributed to this saint were documented by the wife of King Henryk Brodaty, who told the following story: When the son of a prominent judge was still unable to walk at eight years of age, his mother brought the boy to the grave of St. Hedwig in her arms and was praying to St. Hedwig to heal him when, lo!, a miracle happened. In the presence of the priest who baptized him and the abbess of the monastery, the boy suddenly stood up, took an egg that lay before him and walked around the saint's grave. The abbess took other decorated eggs and threw them at the feet of the young boy, compelling him to walk further from the tomb. This miracle is said to have happened near Easter between 1274 and 1287."
In William Hone's "The Everyday book" (1938 edition, volume 1, page 430) there is a report on the decorating of eggs in England during Edward I 's reign (1239-1307) (Hone, 1838):
"Four hundred eggs were bought for eighteen-pence in the time of Edward I., as appears by a royal roll in the tower; from whence it also appears they were purchased for the purpose of being boiled and stained, or covered with leaf gold, and afterwards distributed to the royal household at Easter. They were formerly consecrated, and the ritual of pope Paul V. for the use of England, Scotland, and Ireland contains the form of consecration. On Easter eve and Easter day the heads of families sent to the church large chargers, filled with the hard boiled eggs, and there the "creature of eggs" became sacred by virtue of holy water, crossing and so on."
It has been hard to find records of decorated eggs that are not from ostriches, likely due to their fragile nature, see Appendix page 23. A fragment of a decorated non-ostrich egg, from the 13th century, was found in the excavation of Ostrow Tumski in Wroclaw, Poland. The small fragment was found and identified as an eggshell, and dated, based on the layer in which it was found, as prior to 1241 AD. It has a dark background and a series of lighter coloured lines drawn on it, Figure 8 (Kóčka & Ostrowska , 1956). This suggests a batik method, as it's easier to draw pale lines with a dark background using batik, rather than dark lines with a pale background. The ends of lines and the turns also suggest the slight pooling of wax or paste that occurs from either a kystka or a pin. Found with the fragment of egg shell was a bone splinter or pick, along with a number of other women's tools such as a spindle-whorl, and bone combs. The bone splinter might suggest a tool used in creating the decoration on the egg-shell fragment.
Figure 8: Translation: Figure. 10 Worclaw Cathedral Island a) Whetstone from layer II / II b) Fragment of eggs from layers II, c) Fragment of bone lining from layer II d) Spindle-whorl, earthenware with green glaze from layer II / III e) Fragment of the bone comb with openwork okladnica (tine?) from layer II / III f) Knife copper layer II. (Kóčka & Ostrowska , 1956)
A late 1400's early 1500's Venice carnival scene depicts three revelers carrying a basket of perfume-filled eggs, Figure 9 (de' Medici, 1497). Only a portion of the picture is shown here. In the picture it appears that the eggs in the basket have different designs.
Figure 9: From the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University; frontispiece from "Canzone per Andare in Màschera per Carnesciale" by Lorenzo de' Medici and others, woodcut after 1497, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence copy write Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. (de' Medici, 1497)
John Nott, also accounts the ancient feasting practice of blown, decorated eggs filled with rose water and perfume being thrown at subtleties as a Twelfth Day table diversion (Nott, 1726).
An ostrich egg was found in an Egyptian dig, and dated to the fifteenth century. It bears verses of Arabic love poetry, and was conjectured to be used as a perfume container or perhaps a drinking cup Figure 10 (Whitfield, 2002). Similar objects were also hung by Coptic Christians in churches (Whitfield, 2002).
Figure 10: Fifteenth century ostrich egg with Arabic love poetry written on it (Whitfield, 2002).
Venetia Newall quotes from a 1694 collection of sermons "Ovum Paschael Novum Oder Neugfarbte Oster Ayr" Andreas Strobl a Bavarian priest gives a detailed account of decorated Easter eggs (Newall, An Egg At Easter: A Folklore Study, 1971):
"The whole year eggs do not receive so much honour as at Easter; they are gilded, silvered, painted with spots and figures, they are also painted and decorated with beautiful colours in relief, they are scratched, they are made into Easter lambs or into a pelican who feeds his young with his own blood, or they carry the picture of Christ or something else; they are boiled, they are dyed green, red, yellow, gold, etc. They are made up and then given as gifts by one good friend to another. They are even carried in large amounts to church to be blessed, and there are many who now eat or drink a soft boiled egg, rather than anything else."
The final piece of evidence is a recent find of an intact goose egg in Lviv, Ukraine. It was found in the excavation of a rainwater collector that was dated to the 15-16th century, Figure 11 (Press Office of NAS of Ukraine, 2013). There have not yet been any papers published on the find, but the press release from the Rescue Archaeological Service group of the National Academy of Science, Ukraine gives a picture and the details of the Lviv find.
Figure 11: Intact 15-16th century Goose egg found in the excavation of a rainwater collector, Lviv, Ukraine (Press Office of NAS of Ukraine, 2013).
Analysis of the Lviv Egg
The light lines on a dark background of this egg suggest wax batik. The blebs at the corners and spots where the kystka or tool was lifted from the egg are again consistent with the batik method, Figure 12.
Figure 12: Close up of marks on the Lviv egg, showing places where the tool was lifted accidently and created blebs of colour (Press Office of NAS of Ukraine, 2013).
There are two ways current batik is used to write pysanky. The first is using a kystka, a tool made with a small piece of metal (tin, brass, or copper) folded into a funnel or triangle and attached to a stick with a bit of wire. The second is to use a pin or pin-like tool. Both tools are potential candidates. Due to the find of a bone splinter along with the Warcłow egg fragment, the pin method might have been the one used to make these early eggs. However, the kystka method is a reasonable possibility, because of the evenness of the lines.
The egg's colour, without an analysis provided, looks correct for an onion skin dye, but given the age and the fact it was found in the water, could simply be faded. Egg colour was symbolic. Red was magically protective (Tkachuk, Kishchuk, & Nicholaichuk, 1977), and Hakluyt's Voyages in 1589 states:
"They (the Russians) have an order at Easter which they always observe, and that is this – every year against Easter to die or colour red with brazzel, a great number of eggs" (Newall, Easter Eggs, 1968)
Red with white lines would be used in traditional designs as protection from evil. Yellow was purity, love, and wisdom. Orange a combination of the two symbolizes strength and endurance (Tkachuk, Kishchuk, & Nicholaichuk, 1977). Yellow or orange can be achieved in a turmeric or onion skin dye bath (Melo, 2009).
The symbol on this egg represents water, Figure 13, so its find in a water collector is likely not coincidence. There was a long standing belief regarding the magical properties of pysanky. Not only were they symbols of the Christian resurrection (Bock, 2002) and important to Easter celebrations in the Greek Orthodox church, but they were also buried in the ground before plowing each spring to ensure fertility of the field, given for luck in courtship, placed in mangers and hen houses to ensure the health of the animals, and placed in graves to appease the spirits (Tkachuk, Kishchuk, & Nicholaichuk, 1977). The belief in eggs as symbols of resurrection dates from ancient Egyptian times, though it is mentioned as a Christian resurrection symbol as early as the first century AD, and the belief has lasted to the present day (Newall, An Egg At Easter: A Folklore Study, 1971). The other traditional or superstitious uses of the eggs mentioned above can be traced to using the eggs in magic, the hints of which show up mainly in witch trial information from the 16th and 17th centuries and various mythologies would suggest the beliefs are even older then that, (Newall, An Egg At Easter: A Folklore Study, 1971). The water symbol made into an "eternity band", an endless loop, symbolizes immortality (Petrusha, Eternity Bands). It was believed to trap evil spirits; which suggests the egg had a protective function (Petrusha, Eternity Bands). Traditionally this specific pattern was thought to originate from the black sea area and is called a waves pattern, again relating to water (Petrusha, Eternity Bands).
Figure 13: Close up of the water symbol seen on the Lviv egg. (Press Office of NAS of Ukraine, 2013)
The replication of the Lviv egg
Onion, turmeric, and brazilwood dyes were first tested on chickens' eggs. Given that batik techniques were used on fabric in India and Egypt, which means the dyes for the eggs could be fabric dye recipes. However, it's just as likely that the dyes could also be ones used in cooking. For yellow colour we have both onion skins and turmeric which are ancient dyes used for fabric in very early times, (Barber, 1991). Both being foods of the period, they become likely candidates for yellow dye. The reference to brazilwood from Newall (Newall, Easter Eggs, 1968) gives a third possibility. It is unclear if there would have been a mordant used on the egg or not, but modern Easter egg dyes use vinegar, fabric often uses alum, and it's also possible that no mordant would be used. Brazilwood presents one other possibility. The addition of wood ash to make the brazilwood dye mixture alkaline rather than acidic gives a different colour of dye. In all these cases I boiled the dyestuffs, poured them into jars, added the mordant to the dye, and let them cool.
Given the possibilities I tried the following 12 combinations at a five minute dip in the warm dye (~45C) using unblown eggs and the most accurate colour was tested in an overnight dip in room temperature dye using blown eggs, Table 1. The longer dye trial was done with blown farm eggs that had not been washed in bleach or with soap. The shorter dye trial was done with regular store bought eggs.
The word "pysanka" писанка, plural "pysanky, has its roots in the Ukrainian word "pysaty" which means to write. The tool used to do the writing of an egg is called a kystk, кістка, or kistka, which in Ukrainian means bone or ossification. So to write an egg you use a bone. Whether it is due to the look of the tool or if the word has something to do with the use of bone shards as early pins is not clear, but the Worclaw bone being found with an egg shard makes an intriguing question as to the possibility of writing a pysanky with a bone tool. To that end I carved a number of chicken bones, since they are hollow and might hold wax in the way a quill does, to test them as possible instruments for writing eggs. I also tried the more commonly known methods of using the head of a pin or the two types of hand-made kystky to see which tool marks looked most like those on the Lviv egg,. After applying the wax on the farm eggs with the different tools I put the eggs into the onionskin brazilwood dye bath for random times, Table 2. Upon removing the wax I assessed the eggs. The bone tool marks initially came out much wider than the other tool marks, and the pin head marks came out the narrowest. However, I decided that might be due to the width of the bone tool. So I tried carving a few more bone tools and eventually managed to get a point that drew a similar sized line to the pin head. I was not consistent with the size of the line I could draw and after practicing for a time I decided that because I had only one goose egg, I would use the pin for the final creation, though given more practice (a good year worth of writing) with a bone tool I could have made it work consistently enough to try it on an only goose egg.
Figure 14: Tools used to make the test eggs
Table 2: Tool Tests
The goose egg was made using the brazilwood onion dye combination, as it seemed to have a mottled pattern similar to that on the original egg, and a metal pin was used to apply the wax because I could not achieve consistently even lines with a bone tool. The kystka marks seemed much more even than those on the Lviv egg.
To make the egg, first the egg was blown and the design was then applied to the white egg by using a pin dipped in molten beeswax. After the wax was applied to all the areas that show up as white, it was filled with water, and the hole waxed over so that it would sink in the dye bath. The egg was then dipped into an onion – brazilwood dye mixture and left overnight at room temperature. The egg was pulled out of the dye and left to dry. Then a candle flame was used to heat the wax and once molten it was wiped off the egg, and then it was drained of the water, Figure 15, and 16.
Figure 15: Left- trial chicken's egg with wax applied prior to dipping. Center - goose egg waxed and dyed. Right - finished goose egg.
Figure 16: The replica (right) compared to the extant egg (left).
Sadly, much of the primary and secondary documentation of Ukrainian folk traditions is hard to find due to the destruction of anything that inspired Ukrainian nationalism during the soviet era, as part of the Holodomor. Older historical studies and collections of the folk art or music were destroyed and many people who championed the traditional crafts were killed in 1939 (Kononenko, 1998). Under the communist regime the "anti-religious struggle" made the creation of pysanky illegal in the Ukraine.
"Those who specialized in egg painting were not only condemned, but fines were imposed on them and in some cases even legal proceedings instituted against them." (Skurativsky, 1992).
"It was forbidden not only to to make and sell pysanky, but even to study the history of the craft" (Skurativsky, 1992).
"The exhibits were withdrawn from numerous museums (and there was a number of cases when bureaucrats from arts issued secret instructions to destroy them.)" (Skurativsky, 1992).
Thus, much of the documentation for egg decorating comes from other countries and can be documented to after the 1600's, as it took time for the art to disseminate to other cultures. This has been the main challenge in documentation of the practice until recently. With Ukraine becoming independent and putting resources towards the process of recovering its cultural history, sources have become more available on the topic.
According to Skurativsky, one piece survived, an egg made in the 10th century by a Kiev craft shop that produced painted clay eggs. This egg is displayed in the Kiev Historical Museum and goes by the name "Beregynia (protector). It is decorated with a Great Goddess figure – a stylized female figure with her hands up (Skurativsky, 1992). This symbol is still used on traditional eggs today as a symbol of the motherhood, life, and fertility (Zielyk, 1992). This figure also appears on rugs, weavings, carvings and embroidery that date to approximately the fifth century A.D. in Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Thracian, and Scythian cultures (Tkachuk, Kishchuk, & Nicholaichuk, 1977).
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Copyright 2014 by Susan Koziel. <kataryna_dragonweaver at yahoo.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.