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.
Two of the main centres for enamelwork in Europe were Geneva and Vienna. These two centres offered subtly different designs. For scenic pictures, the Viennese painters and enamellers introduced the use of a tinted background of light pink or very pale yellow. This contrasted the stark white background preferred by the Genevans. These techniques reflected the style of Rococo artists such as Francois Boucher. The chosen colours would complement the pastoral designs depicted in the enamelwork.
Enamel crafted within the UK was often referred to as ‘Battersea enamel’ after the London factory in which items were made. Upon further research however, this name proves misleading; enamel was also made in many other places including Birmingham and Liverpool. Within the UK, popular enamel motifs included flowers, pastoral scenes and mottoes. In addition, famous European art works were frequently copied in enamel form. This was a possibility as copyright laws were not yet rigidly established.
By the late 1800s guilloche enamel had become fashionable, one of the most renowned exponents being Carl Fabergé, the Russian jeweller and master goldsmith of French origin. Guilloché originally referred to engine turned geometric engraved designs displaying intricate, repetitive patterns. This combined with enamel overlay is termed ‘guilloche enamel’ and is demonstrated on many silver and enamel pieces such as cigarette cases and vanity sets.
Enamel has been a part of silverware for an incredibly long time, and though its status as en vogue may come and go, it seems as though enamel is here to stay.