A reader of this site recently asked about an unfamiliar Russian term encountered in a French book on icons. it is a rather interesting term because it relates to a frequent and important element in old Russian icons — the stylized hills that are found in so many types. They, together with the “palaces” — the stylized buildings — form the most significant background elements in Russian iconography.
Here is an illustration of a hill in the style of 15th century Novgorod painting:
The word in question is Лещадки — leshchadki, which is also found in the form Лещадка — leshchadka. It is derived from the singular form лещадь — leshchad, which means a flagstone, slab of stone, or tile.
It is not difficult to see how it relates to iconographic hills. In old Russian icons, hills were depicted as stylized, stepped mounds, with each step looking like a flagstone or tile. Just how these were depicted changed as time passed, so the manner in which the “steps” — the leshchadka of hills — are painted is a good pointer in dating icons.
A related term is пяточки — pyatochki, meaning “heels.” That too relates to the “steps” of icons, and comes from the habit in old Russian icons of painting the upper ends of the “steps” with rounded shapes that look like the heels of feet. You can see the “heels” in the illustration on this page.
In English, we can just call these two elements of hill painting “steps” and “heels.”
The shapes that were combined to make the surreal hills in old Russian icons really do look like slabs of rock or large tiles. By the time we get to the “Stroganov” icons and those later painted in the village of Palekh, these slabs of stone — these “steps” — get smaller, and begin to look more like clusters of little wooden shingles, as in this illustration in the style of 18th century Palekh painting:
The illustrations on this page are from the book Стилистические традиции искусства Палеха — Stylistic Traditions of the Art of Palekh, by Н. М. Зиновьев — N. M. Zinoviev.