Enamel is colored silica or glass with other additives such as soda, potash, and borax. Enamels can take various forms from soft, hard, to elastic. The art of enamel is a process of melting glass on the substances that adhere to glass and those that can withstand the high heat involved in enameling. Therefore gold, copper, iron, fine brass, and silver are can be enameled. The process starts by grounding enamel glass into fine powder. Then, the powder is mixed with glue or any other substance that holds it powder together. Further, the powder is painted, sifted, stenciled, dropped, or sponged on the surface of desired materials at high temperature. At low temperatures, the glass fuses on the surface of material. The success of the process is achieved when it is ensured that the powder is fusible and it melts smoothly.
The art of enameling is ancient, and evidence of it is found in most parts of Europe. Most researchers argue that the art began in Cyprus in the 13th century B.C. However, there is also evidence that the Celts produced enamels using the champlevé technique where depressions were made in the metal and then enamel was placed inside. The Byzantium also produced enamel in the 9th and 11th centuries. Back then, the technique used was cloisonné, where areas between wires were fitted with glasses of different colors and then melted. In the Middle Ages, Germany and France became interested in enamel art. Later, in the 19th century, Russians used the plique-a-jour technique in the art of enameling. Between the 17th and the 18th centuries, enameling in Britain was done in numerous places, and numerous objects were produced. In the USA, the art of enameling has been practiced since the mid-19th century. This paper will discuss the development of enameling in Cyprus in the 13th century and relate the art with mid-century art in the USA.
Enamel in Cyprus
Although the development of enamel art began independently in various regions, Cyprus was one of those regions where the art had started. Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean, has a history that dates back to 8,000 years. The island was one of the earliest producers of copper and it had a flourishing metal industry. The region enjoyed high levels of prosperity during the Golden Age. Owing to this prosperity and a promising metal industry, Cyprus attracted many people from the neighboring countries and regions. Some of the settlers were the Mycenaeans who came to Cyprus as refugees to avoid troubles with the Greeks. This group of people established numerous workshops and they had many ideas and techniques that contributed greatly to artistic creation.
One of the unique techniques developed at that time was cloisonné enameling. The technique was unique and it was not known anywhere besides Cyprus at that time. In 952, six golden rings decorated with cloisonné enamel were found in a Mycenaean tomb in Kouklia, Cyprus, and it dates back to the 13th century B.C. Later in 11 B.C, another royal gold scepter covered with cloisonné enamel was discovered in the Mycenaean tombs in Kourion, Cyprust. These six rings and the golden scepter served as an indicator that the earliest creators of enamel were from Cyprus.
Earlier decorations that involved covering metals with glass were discovered in the ancient Egyptian tombs. However, the decoration of metals with glass or other precious materials and stones was performed by cementing or by using physical means, for instance, clasps. Only after unknown artists in Cyprus had discovered the art of fusing glass in metal, enamel art was discovered. Therefore, the six rings with twisted square wires and the gold scepter are the earliest known pieces of enamel that can now be found in Nicosia museum in Cyprus.
The cloisonné technique of enameling involved strips of copper, brass, gold, or silver that were attached to a metal base to form a series of small raised cells. Between the borders of the strips, enamel is laid as a paste. The final thickness is made in layers by filing with firings. This way, the creators prevent the colors of enamel from mixing and giving a mechanical feeling of enamel.
From Cyprus to the Byzantine Empire
It is surprising that cloisonné technique disappeared after the 13th century B.C and appeared later in Byzantine Empire in the 9th to 11th century A.D. In between Cyprus and the Byzantine Empire, the popular technique was the champlevé technique of the Celts. The technique involved making depressions in metals and placing the enamel inside the depression in the metal. Most often, bronze was used. The enamel in bronze was used to decorate horse trappings, garment closures, swords, and shields.
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Byzantine enamels were produced in Georgia and Ukraine. The technique used was cloisonné, as mentioned earlier; the areas between the wires were filled with ground colored glass and then fired. Thus, two significant works during the Byzantine Empire era were the Pala d’Oro in the basilica of San Marco, and Venice and Hungarian Crown that is now found in the Hungarian National Museum. In addition, numerous cloisonné disks were covered with images of saints that were used mostly in Gospel covers.
Enameling in America in mid-19th Century
The American jewelry industry grew from small workshops to large firms. By the mid- 19th century, the American jewelry industry supplied the customers with a wide range of objects made of gold and silver. The types of jewelry ranged from medals, earrings, and brooches to hair jewelry. Collections found in Metropolitan Museum contain jewelry with different types of enameling. During the Art Nouveau movement, jewelry designs were produced in masses in the USA in New Jersey, Newark, and Providence, Rhode Island.
At the same time, the American jewelry industry offered small and inexpensive items. Using the Art Nouveau design, motifs were created, especially for the merchant class in abundance. However, major American jewelry houses, for instance, Tiffany & Company produced fine Art Nouveau Jewelry. Tiffany produced significant Art Nouveau designs that were handmade, using gems and baroque pearls. Another firm that produced fine arts at this time was Marcus & Co. that had French flora-themed jewelry with extensive use of enamel.
The unique feature of jewelry designs that were made during the Art Nouveau era was the theme of free-flowing lines and well as insects as fantasy creatures. The line, commonly referred to as “whiplash” line, was the interpretation of lines and movements in plants, feminine curves, and woman’s hair. Additionally, designs of insects as fantasy creatures were mostly made in the shapes of dragonflies and butterflies. Other insects that inspired Art Nouveau designers were grasshoppers, spiders, beetles, and other small creatures.
The difference between the Cyprus art and the mid-19th century art was in the designs and materials used. Gold and silver were mostly used and they were manipulated to look soft. Horn, bone, Ivory, and gems were used to flow in the line. Enamel was very important in adding color. Thus, Plique-a-jour enameling as opposed to cloisonné was reinvented. In addition, Champlevé technique was important in adding depth and mystery. At the same time, Pate de verre, a kind of glass was used to polish the products.
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Effects or Revolution on Art of Enameling
Industrial revolutions led to both negative and positive effects. However, the negative ones were mostly felt. The Industrial Revolution introduced mass production of items at big factories. Small companies that used to make small and unique enamels could not make any profits because craftsmen had been attracted by the big firms. This greatly hampered enamel production, especially in England. The Napoleon war also brought the effects of export ban which made it hard for craftsmen to sell their enamels. Additionally, glass, ceramic, and metal products started replacing enamels as consumers were attracted fashionable products. A combination of all these factors during the revolution period impacted enamel production negatively, thus making it less popular.
How Enamel Traveled Across Continents and how It was Used
Enamels were mostly exported from the East to the West. The trade took place between the 13th and the 15th centuries during the medieval period. Most of the enamel products were made for the royal class. After being produced in the East, products could be transported by the slaves to other royals across continents. Enamels were used for different purposes. For instance, enamel pots, kettles, cups, and plates were made for household goods in Cyprus. Others were made with expensive metals, such as gold, and were only used by the royal families. Therefore, enamel use depended on cultures as well as the value of products.
The art of enamel dates back in the 13th century B.C in Cyprus. The art presupposes decorating metals with cored glass through fusion. In Cyprus, the two important discoveries were the six golden rings and a golden scepter found in the Mycenaeans tombs. The technique used by the craftsmen was the cloisonné technique that soon disappeared, only to reappear during the Art Nouveau era. The art of enameling has gone through various changes in the materials used, the technique, and the uses depending on the culture.