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Techniques of enamelling

Enamel

  A generic term for diverse techniques

Enamel is a generic term referring to several techniques whose common point is the fire used in order to fix glassy material upon a metal base.

  An object

By extension, it also describes any objects made with one of these techniques.

  A raw material

Enamel is also a raw material. In its primary state, enamel is a glassy material closer to crystal than glass. It is mixed with alkaline components like soda or potash which aim to lower the melting point in order to make the material more malleable.

These different components are fused at high temperatures and then milled to obtain a colourless powder: the "fondant".

This powder is coloured by adding metal oxides: manganese for the yellow ; copper for the blue, the green and  the red ; cobalt for the blue, the grey or the mauve...

  The enameller's art

The enameller's art consists of fixing the powdered enamel on its metal base (gold, silver, bronze, copper, brass or steel) with a series of short firings at a temperature hovering around 800° C. These firings are essential because all the colours are not baked at the same temperatures. Indeed, the artist must start his work with ones requiring the highest temperatures and finish with those demanding the lowest.

Enamel craft has been known since Antiquity but the techniques varied everywhere and all along the centuries.

 

Techniques of enamelling

 

  Champlevé enamels

French for "raised field".

The enameller carves the surface of a metal base following the expected drawing using burins and other tools. Damp sand-powdered enamel is put into the troughs or cells and is fired in order to fix it to the metal. As a result, the coloured sections are surrounded by the metal partitions. Polishing remove any surplus of enamel so that the piece gets its expected gloss. Gilding gives the piece its final appearance and makes it more weather-resistant. The champlevé technique was used in Limousin during the Middle Ages.

  Cloisonné enamels

French for "cell"

This technique, already known in Antiquity consists in soldering thin strips of gold, silver or copper on a metal base. This creates a network of cells which will tightly hold enamel in position. The enamelling and finishing processes are the same as for champlevé enamels.

  Painted enamels

The metal base is uniformly covered with colourless enamel (fondant) on its both sides and undergoes a first firing: the reverse is thus protected from weather and the right side ready to be decorated. Numerous layers of coloured sand-powdered enamel are applied with a spatula and each layer is fired to fix the colour. Glazed colours, finely milled in order to be brushed on, can be used to highlight particular details. Thin gold or silver foil can be dipped into enamel to make the colours more shining.

The technique of painted enamels appeared in Limoges by the end of the 15th century.

  The grisaille technique

Derived from painted enamels, the technique consists in superimposing white enamel on a black background. Using thin tools, the enameller scrapes off the enamel to obtain a wide set of greys. This technique is particularly suited for portrait making. Thanks to this technique, Limoges became a famous place in Renaissance times.

  Basse-taille enamels

French for "low cut"

The surface of metal is decorated by engraving, hammering or any similar process. The metal base is then covered by transparent or translucent enamel which, after the necessary firings, will create shimmering effects of transparency.

  Plique enamels

The metal base is drilled in order to make openings that will be filled with coloured enamel. After firing, enamel remains visible on the two sides of the metal base. It has a stained-glass like appearance.

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