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LATEST SPOTLIGHT_________________________________

Bejeweled Glass
by Bob Brooke


Enameled glass has existed in one form or another since ancient Egypt, 1400 years before the invention of glassblowing. But it wasn’t produced in quantity until the days of the Roman Empire. After that, it appeared in medieval Egypt and Syria and through trading with Venetian merchants, Venice, from where it spread to the Holy Roman Empire. After a decline of enameled glass from the 1750s, French glassmakers in the late 19th century revived enameled glass in newer styles.

Enameled glass was glass which had been decorated with vitreous enamel—powdered glass, usually mixed with a binder, then fired to fuse the glasses. It produced brilliant and long-lasting colors and could be translucent or opaque. Unlike most methods of decorating glass, it allowed painting using several colors, and along with glass engraving, had been the main technique used to create the full range of images on glass.

The Romans used enamel to decorate glass vessels as early as the late Republican and early Imperial periods. Artisans either painted designs freehand or over the top of outlines.

Many pieces were either tall, clear drinking glasses painted with scenes of sex from mythology or violent hunting or gladiators fighting, and low bowls, dating to between 20 and 70 C.E., some of colored glass, painted with birds and flowers.

Venetian glassmakers used enameling on glass from the late 13th century, mostly to make beakers.

By the mid-15th century, Angelo Barovier's workshop was the most important in Venice. His family had introduced the technique in the past. Venetian glassmakers exported much of their glass to the Holy Roman Empire.Notonly didhis competitors copy his enameling technique, but so did those in Germany and Bohemia.

By the mid16th century, enameled glass ceased to be fashionable in Italy, but the broadly Venetian style remained popular in Germany and Bohemia until the mid-18th century, after which the remaining production was of much lower quality.

The schwarzlot style originated with the glassmaker Johann Schaper of Nuremberg in Germany around 1650. He used using only black enamel on clear or sometimes white milk glass. This was a relatively linear style, with images often drawing on printmaking at the time. Schaper himself was the best artist to use it, specializing in landscapes and architectural subjects.

In the 19th century there was increasing technical quality in many parts of Europe, initially with revivalist or over-elaborate Victorian styles. In the later part of the century fresher and more innovative designs, often anticipating Art Nouveau, were led by French makers such as Daum and Émile Gallé. It was for the first time possible to kiln-fire pieces, greatly simplifying the process and making it more reliable, reducing the risk of having to reject pieces and so allowing more investment in elaborate decorative work. The Prague firm of Moser was a leading producer.

Victorian glassmakers produced relatively large vases or bowls for display in either Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles, which was especially well suited to glass.

WATCH A VIDEO:  Enameling on Glass

The Enameling on Glass Technique
To enamel glass, artisans mixed powdered glass, either already colored or clear glass mixed with the pigments, with a binder such as gum arabic, resulting in a thick liquid texture allowing it to be painted with brushes. Generally, the desired colors only appeared after the piece had been fired, adding to the artist's difficulties. Artists applied the paint to the vessel, called a “blank,” which had already been formed. Once painted, the enameled glass vessel had to be fired at a temperature high enough to melt the powder, but low enough that the vessel itself was only softened sufficiently to fuse the enamel with the glass surface, but not enough to deform or melt the original shape. During the firing, the binding and demarcating substances burned away.

Originally, glassworkers achieved the enamel firing by holding the vessel in a glass furnace on a long iron rod called a pontil. But during the 19th century, they used enamels with a lower melting point, enabling the second firing to be done in a kiln.

The melted enamels left a layer of glass projecting very slightly above the vessel’s surface. By this time, glassmakers often used enameling in combination with gilding. Sometimes elements of the "blank," such as handles, had to be added after the enamel paints, during the second firing.

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