Indian King Porus. Tinted woodcut. First half of the 18th century
The world-famous collection of popular prints housed in the National Library of Russia comprises some 12,000 items. Most often termed lubki, these prints appeared in Russia late in the seventeenth century and were widely used for the decoration of homes and inns. The majority of them are now lost due to the ephemeral nature of paper. Some prints of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries survived only within collections, the earliest of which was assembled by Jacob von Stahlin. In 1766 by the Saviour Gate of the Kremlin in Moscow he bought a job lot of prints with religious and secular subjects produced from wooden blocks and for the most part hand-coloured.
The subjects of many prints were drawn from literature which circulated in handwritten copies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: Velikoe Zertsalo (The Great Mirror), a collection of tales and parables; Alexandria, a history of Alexander the Great's campaigns; and Domostroi, a manual of behaviour and household encyclopaedia. The mediaeval western legend of the enchanted Melusina found reflection in a print entitled Melusina the Fish.
Popular prints issued in the second half of the nineteenth century were supplied to the library directly from the censorship committees, since from 1851 all products of engraving and lithographic shops were subject to compulsory scrutiny. In this way the library acquired a virtually comprehensive collection.
Lubok pictures held by the Print Department comprise of a series of named collections. These collections are outlined here in reverse chronological order: