Enamel is a glassy substance, usually opaque in nature, which is fused over metal to provide a smooth and sometimes decorative coating.
The earliest examples of enamel work can be found on embellished gold artefacts from 15th Century BC.
During the 6th century AD, cloisonné work began to be developed in Constantinople (Istanbul). To create this effect gold ‘cells’ were filled with powdered enamels, which when heated, formed small areas of sectioned glaze. By the 12th century, champlevé enamels were being produced in Limoges. These recessed designs were created in gold or silver plaques which were then filled with two or more layers of enamel, providing a smooth, coloured coating.
One of the finest examples of enamel work currently available to see is the Royal Gold Cup of the Kings of France and England, made in Paris circa 1385. It is currently held in the British Museum.
Enamel through the Centuries
In the 15th century, painting techniques combined with goldsmiths’ use of coloured glass on their designs resulted in more complex enamelwork.
From the mid-17th century, Geneva became the centre for enamel production in Europe, with artists and craftsmen travelling to major towns and cities to promote and sell their work which included decorative plates and boxes.
The 19th century saw the greatest diversity in enamel painting, with recognised specialist workshops in France, Austria and England.