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Past Articles from Glass on Metal

by Bill Helwig
from Volume 3, No. 3, June 1984

Photo 1     The term Limoges as an enameling technique in the United States tends to be a catch all for any method of working outside of the main categories of cloisonne, champleve, basse taille, plique a jour and en resille which have the characteristics of having been applied with a brush or in fine detail. 
     According to Philippe Verdier, author of Painted Enamels of the Renaissance, Walters Art Gallery and Limoges Painted Enamels in the Frick Collection, the term Limoges refers to the city, not an enameling technique.

Photo 2      The following quote from Painted Enamels of the Renaissance defines the terms related to painted enamels with historical perspective.

     "The Italian enamels of the period around 1500 fall into two categories.  The purely decorative ones, produced in Venice, adhered strictly to a technique of painting in camaïeu on a gros bleu back- ground and pointing up the painting in gold, which is of Netherlandish and Burgundian derivation.  The others, originating in northern Italy, were associated with liturgical objects that were commissioned of goldsmiths.  They were executed in a mixed technique wherewith care was taken to let the silver background shine through the translucent enamels, while Photo 3 the enamels were rendered partly opaque by being highlighted and modelled with the brush, in a method of impasto akin to the same sort of brushwork in painting.  In the plaques enamelled in Limoges by the 'Monvaerni' Master the corrugated surface of the apprêt - the preparatory layers of black and white enamels underlying the colored ones - retains, and indeed it exaggerates, the undulation which in the previous translucent enamels of the basse-taille technique, from 1270 and on, was impaired by the shallow relief of the silver ground to the film of enamels covering it."

Photo 4      "The revival of the art of enamelling in Limoges in the second half of the fifteenth century was a phenomenon only tenuously connected with the first manifestations of the spirit of the Renaissance, both in Italian (rational) and Northern (realistic) connotations.  It was however, the renascence of a craft traditional in Limoges since the twelfth century.  This occurred three generations after the ultimate decay of the craft of champleve enamelling during the first phase of the war between France and England and through the havoc wrought in the Photo 5 workshops of Limoges by the soldiers of the Black Prince in 1371.  This renaissance was manifested in the size of the plaques, which rendered the enamels comparable with small easel paintings, and in the appropriation of certain methods of the engravers in laying out and delineating the composition.  But, on the other hand, the time-honored tradition that had linked the crafts of the goldsmith and of the enameller during the Middle Ages never became alienated from the new fashion of painting in enamel.  Witness the enduring confusion in documents between the professions of goldsmith and enameller, the 'jewels' that enrich the enamels in the period between 1490 and 1525, and, even before these fell into disuse, the appearance of foils, thanks to which were inserted in the painted enamels brilliant islets of transparency executed in a mock recipe of the earlier basse taille enamels."

Photo 6      "The apprêt, or preparation, which was used for laying out the painted enamels was basically a layer of wet white enamel applied on a previously fired layer of black enamel.  Through the white one the design was delineated in black by scraping with the spatula handle or the needle, and it could be retouched with black hatchings applied with the brush after the firing of the white layer.  In the grisailles, the needle was commonly used according to a pattern of circumscribing and modelling enlevages and the effect resulting from the baring of the black layer by Photo 7 hatchings was combined with variegating the tones of the white enamel through manipulations of the spatula or the brush.  When the correlation between style and technique was no longer sustained in the seventeenth century, the modelling was executed more and more in strokes of bistre added with the brush.  But in the second third of the sixteenth century, the black preliminary layer could be dispensed with altogether and the composition traced with the brush on an apprêt consisting only of white enamel, or it might even be drawn directly on the copper plate, with the proviso that the areas subsequently to be covered with blue enamel were coated for protection with white enamel." 

Photo 8      The terms, although self evident, still seem somewhat confusing without the advantage of specific pieces or clear photographs to study.  It is my opinion that the term painted is the generalized technique unless otherwise distinguished as Grisaille, white on a dark ground; or Camaïeu, white on a non-dark, or transparent ground.  Both terms mean monochromatic, however the term gris means gray and relates to the specific black, while Camaieu refers to the monochromat of all the other colors, and as indicated in the text to translucent enamels being rendered partly opaque by being high- lighted and modelled with a brush. 

Photo 9      The term impasto as defined by the quotation mayor may not produce fine results, dependent on the fit of the enamels and/or metal expansion.  It was for this reason that I treated impasto as a separate technique used directly on metal (Vol. 3, No.2) rather than in terms of an application of enamel on a previously fired enamel surface.  Fine modeling with a brush work usually requires a fine grind mesh size of enamel for controllability.  When a fine grind of enamel has been modeled with areas of thickness in the application the heavy areas can show strain lines from the thermal expansion of the base metal or enamel.  The general idea is that the finer the grind the thinner the application must be to reduce or remove this occurrence which may disrupt the design or image of the piece.  This occurrence is Photo 10 not true when the expansions are sufficiently close; the base enamel is thin, and the firing cycle includes a slow up and an annealing down time periods. (i.e., 118 white or AW66 white, 325 mesh applied thick will show strain lines on 18 gauge copper, but not on 24 gauge copper or on pre-coated enameling iron).  Historical pieces in comparison to today's work had a longer firing and cooling cycle, was worked on thinner copper with thin undercoatings of enamel.  When the materials are taken into account the impasto technique can be used on a previously enameled surface as historically pointed out.  Thus what in the past seems hard to copy in the present is only the relationship of knowing the materials well enough to selectively choose the right materials and correct process. 

Photo 11      Camaïeu on a dark background traditionally is considered to be Grisaille.  The shades of gray produced monochromatic tones of white on the black, blue or brown opaque background.  The photo examples presented here are Camaïeu using thin coats of AW 66 white, 325 mesh soaked in Klyr-Fire and water (25 - 75) applied to a previously enameled surface of transparent blue, green, yellow and pink with a 000 sable hair brush.  The metal is copper, 18 gauge.  The size is 3 x 4 inches although only the top 3 inches are being reproduced.  The piece was counter enameled with LF 162 black. 

Photo 12      The apprêt, finely ground white was soaked, not mixed with water and Klyr-fire.  Soaking is used in order to reduce the possibilities of adding air bubbles.  If oil is used as the holding agent the preparation can be mixed with a spatula on a plate of glass into a paste then thinned with oil if necessary.  Oil of Lavender is used for thickness and control and Oil of Clove is used for thinness and spread.  If oils are used a longer drying time is required before firing.  The longer drying time has the advantage Photo 13 of longer workability in specific areas.  The mixture of Klyr-fire and water tends to dry very rapidly.  An increase in the amount of Klyr-fire will extend the time, but not as much as the use of oils.  The artist and their needs determines which is the best medium for their design in relationship to the surface and specifics of size, shape and detail. 

     How a specific area will look after firing can only be determined while the area is still wet; after a specific area is dry the quality of the application is very Photo 14 hard to determine due to its dry crusty appearance.  However, the way the area appears while wet will be close to the way it will appear after being fired.  It is only after an area is dry that one should use the enlevege technique.  If the areas are worked while wet the enamel tends to clump or tear as it is being cut through.  It is also easier to remove the scraped away enamel if that area is dry. 

Photo 15      It is important to note that the enamel surface which is to receive the application be clean and devoid of oil and grease which would act as a resist to the wet preparation. 

     Photo 1 shows the entire surface was covered and the wet enamel worked for variations of thick and thinness.  The line work was cut through the dry layer with a sharp stylus, enelevage. 

Photo 16      Photo 2 illustrates the previous application after firing.  If there are alterations to be made to the design those areas can easily be ground off since the white enamel is very thin.  If such need occurs, I advise that the ground surface be refired to gloss prior to the application of fresh enamel to help insure similar appearance. 

     The photo series is designed to illustrate the gradual building up of the white areas for the greater tonal value.  Follow a specific area as it changes through its applications and firings to further understand the qualities available with this technique. 

Photo 17      Each firing was for 90 seconds at 1440°F.  All firings were face up and supported on a small planch. 

     Only white enamel was applied in the photo series with the exception of photo 13.  Here LF320, transparent blue was used to cover the three specific areas seen.  The mesh size was - 200 + 325.  This addition allowed those areas to be color toned as well as pushed further to the mid-or background of the composition.  Photo 18Such a technique is in keeping with painting enamel style and renders fine control of specific color areas.  The use of such additional workings can render fine shades and tones especially if alternated with the use of the opaque white.   


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