The lubok is the name of a specialized type of folk art, a colorful print made either from a woodcut or a copper engraving. This form of art became popular in Russia at the beginning of the sixteenth century during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. One of the earliest surviving lubki (1619-24) represents the Dormition of the Mother of God. As this lubok suggests, the content of the lubki was initially mainly religious (they provided cheap alternatives to expensive icons), but they soon came to depict a variety of secular subjects. Usually rendered in three or four contrasting colors, lubki are bright, cheerful, and expressive; they typically contain both images and text. Drawings on the lubki are simple, with no real consideration given to scale or perspective. Street merchants would sell the lubki outside monasteries, in markets, and at fairs.
No one is certain where the word “lubok” comes from, but it is possible that the word is connected to “lub,” which is the name for bast, or the inner bark of the lime tree. This bark is used in Russia for many purposes; it is used, for example, as roofing for homes, material for making baskets, as writing tablets, etc. Especially in the nineteenth century, the term “lubok” was associated with low-grade, common art as opposed to professional art; however, by the end of the nineteenth-century and the beginning of the twentieth century, the term had lost its derogatory value. This was due in part to the study of the art form by scholars and artists and the efforts of individual collectors.