Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Gold Smith through History

Detail of an enamelled casket musician and dancer early thirteenth century British museum London
As with painting and sculpture, the origins of the goldsmith’s. Art can be placed somewhere between magic and pleasure. When men first saw flakes or grains of gold gleaming in streams, or happened to dig up bits of the shiny metal, these discoveries must have fascinated them. It is not difficult to understand the feeling the most enlightened and sober men of today can be moved by the glitter of gold. The words for gold in most known ancient in languages those for example of the Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Hebrews and Ancient Greeks associate it with sunshine or fire. It was a spontaneous association and from the beginning, gold was seen as the earthly reflection of supernatural omnipotence. This mystery, together with the comparative rarity of gold, is enough to explain why man first collected the metal, boarded it and wore it as decorations’ and symbols of power. It was probably this craving for golden ornamentation and displays both for pleasure and to establish authority which led to the emergence of the first goldsmiths, the first men to work the relatively soft metal into desired shapes. The goldsmith always occupied a privileged position among craftsmen. He always put his skills at the disposal of the elite wherever he worked and was, therefore, among the most privileged of workers and Craftsmen.

There is evidence to show that men amassed gold in Egypt and Nubia some four thousand years before Christ. During the fourth millennium BC, the smelting metal was evolved. With the help blowpipe, and later the bellows, the heat of u. intensified sufficiently to melt and mix other metals. From that time, when the, minute bits of gold were of value; they if combined with other bits in the crucible. Time of the Fourth Dynasty (2590-2463 I Egyptians knew how to cast gold jewelry and to solder it.

Great demand for objects made of gold soon led to the development of specialist Workshops. Workshops, which produced the first masterpieces the goldsmith’s art, were very simple Nevertheless, the Egyptian goldsmith had disposal a repertoire of techniques and nag much different from those available to his day counterparts.

The development of those techniques for working gold can, to some extent, be reconstructed from a careful examination of the objects those early smiths created. But a comprehensive history goldsmith’s art, dealing precisely with the evolution of styles from the beginning to the present is probably impossible. Ironically, this is true gold has always been valued so highly. Archeologists’ finds which tell so much about early civilizations rarely yield golden objects. Understandably broken bowl, which can provide a scholar priceless information about antiquity and, more focally, about the evolution of the potter’s art, once thrown carelessly away. But a golden which was no longer of functional value was carefully preserved because of its decorative or com value and, more often than not, was ultimately w over to a goldsmith for melting down.
Casket for the relics of st Stephen with a ported of his martyrdom thirteenth century Vatican collection Rome 
The work of the master Renaissance goldsmith Bcnvenuto Cellini as described in his writings offers an idea of how vulnerable gold objects I the passage of time. Of the numerous ornamental pieces Cellini mentioned in his autobiography one has remained. Apart from a small golden salt cellar made for King Francis of France notable examples of the goldsmith’s art of and Renaissance times have survived. It is to determine how many treasures have been down, reworked, buried or forgotten in six tho f years. Priceless treasures disappeared in the form of burial hoards still to be uncovered.

We also know very little about the personal lives of the creators of golden objects over the ages, with the exception of the handful of master craftsmen who have achieved a place in the history of art. The ordinary goldsmith of the middle Ages, and until the dawn of modern times, generally operated as a member of a craftsman’s guild. He had to undergo rigorous apprenticeship and pass several difficult tests of his abilities. He had to complete prescribed years of itinerant apprenticeship and prove that his origins were respectable (sons of executioners were, for example, not admitted to such guilds). The exclusive nature of those associations meant that newly qualified craftsmen could look forward to establishing themselves independently only if they married into the families» of established masters. In Nuremberg, the father of the artist Albrecht Diirer worked as an assistant for twelve years before gaining acceptance as a master by marrying his master’s daughter.

The life of the goldsmith in Europe was regulated by the organization of his guild. Goldsmith guilds existed only in big cities. In most other places during the Middle Ages, a single guild embraced painters, sculptors and often apothecaries and shopkeepers, as well as goldsmiths. These guilds were often required to participate in local civil guard organizations which underwent some degree of military training. For goldsmiths, such training could prove particularly useful when they were called upon to guard the precious metal entrusted to their care. Cellini, in his memoirs, describes how he fought off a band of thieves when they tried to take his famous golden salt cellar away from him.

Hammering and Drawing

Gold has always been considered ideal for artistic molding. The fact that it is so malleable has always enhanced its other qualities. It is not at all difficult to pound a lump of gold flat or to draw it into a wire. This makes it possible to turn little bits of the metal into recognizable miniature figures or into small sheets of gold. Nor is it hard to transform a flat sheet into one which is concave or convex, though the more complex forms require considerable skill on the part of the craftsman.

The apostle Luke Byzantine cloisonné work detail from the praxdies reliquary tenth century vattican library collection Rome
Nevertheless, there is evidence of the utmost delicacy in goldsmithery early in the history of human civilization. Gold leaf, set between skins made of the intestines of cattle, could be hammered so thin that it literally became transparent. Worked in this way, gold could be, and was, used to gild sculpture and vessels. It was recognized very early in history that gold leaf imparts a radiant aura to virtually any object.

In 1975, while preparing an exhibition at a museum in Zurich, two Swiss experts observed West African goldsmiths at work. It became apparent to them that the way the African craftsman produced gold leaf was not much different from ways employed five thousand years ago.

A fire burns in the workshop. When necessary it is made to burn more intensely by fanning it. The goldsmith places a lump of gold on an anvil and flattens it by striking it with another anvil which he holds in his hand. After about twenty blows, the gold plate is heated and then cooled in palm wine. It is then beaten flat and turned repeatedly by thumb and forefinger. It is worked with a hammer only after it reaches approximately the proportions of a coin. It is then beaten in a spiral pattern or from the center outward, the left hand moving the object slightly after each blow. With every blow, the hammer slides a little over the surface of the piece so that the hammer marks do not show. The piece of gold 3 is repeatedly and at irregular intervals held in the A flames by pincers and turned. The smith then quenches it in palm wine again or tests it by touching. It seems to cool rapidly. After each additional stage of hammering, it is dampened with palm wine. One of the older smiths always dipped his hammer in palm wine and then tapped it on the anvil several times before placing the piece of gold on it.

Continual hammering produces a piece of gold the size of a coin which the smith now hammers in one direction only so that it stretches into an elongated shape. The leaf gradually gets thinner and thinner, losing its siffness and becoming like paper. The leaf is now held between thumb and forefinger, and is often suppoifted by the middle finger too. When the leaf is a hand’s breadth long; the goldsmith puts it on a smooth working surface and cuts it in half lengthways with an old razor blade. The two halves are then hammered individually and the craftsman cuts the pieces in two again because narrow strips are more manageable than broad ones.

 The gold leaf is always beaten on the same side. From time to time, the smith strokes it between his thumb and forefinger to determine whether the leaf is of even thickness. The leaf, now very thin, is lifted on a forefinger dampened with saliva. Only inexperienced workers make holes in leaves. When holes appear, it is difficult to stop them from spreading. During pauses in his work, the smith always puts the leaf in a jar of palm wine. When the leaf is finished he puts it between the leaves of a notebook.”

Gold wire has been produced ever since goldsmiths Firs took hammer to gold. It was first used to make decorative chains. Originally wire was made from strips of gold sheet which were rolled between stones. But the technique of drawing wire has been known for a very long time. Wire drawers are comically bored plates. The metal strips are drawn through the holes in them. As smaller and smaller holes are used, the heated gold wire grows longer and thinner.

Casting and Embossing

Angle byzantine cloisonné work sixth seventh century Bavarian national museum mumichThe first goldsmiths who understood how to hammer a lump of gold flat also discovered the technique of chasing. Every stroke left a mark on the metal, deeper or shallower depending on the nature of the underlay. What emerged was a random pattern of marks rather than an even surface. The thinner the metal the easier it was to stamp out designs with wooden, stone or metal tools.

Early primitive tools developed over thousands of years. The goldsmith of today has at his disposal a multitude ‘of punches steel rods with variously shaped tips. With the help of an angle iron, he can create convex shapes in areas unreachable with mere punch and hammer narrow necked vessels, for example, and cylindrical shapes. The middle of the angle iron, which is gripped in a vise, is hammered and the force is transmitted to its tip which produces the appropriate mark on the work piece.

Goldsmiths usually combine various techniques. To create a relief image, which has to protrude from a flat surface, the goldsmith might use a hammer. Fine details might require a punch. Final touches might be added with a graver.

The goldsmith must be highly skilled to produce his planned designs. In his “Treatise on the Art of the Goldsmith”, Benvenuto Cellini compared his own techniques with those of Caradosso who was famous for his embossed crucifixes. He first made a wax model which he then cast in bronze. He laid gold leaf over the bronze model and then worked it into shape with mallet. He used sn1all embossing tools to hammer and raise the gold sheet on one side, then on the other. To engrave the details of the Figure, such as the muscles and facial features, he reinforced the object on which he was working with putty to make it more resistant to his gravers, melting it out when it was no longer needed.

Cellini said I on the other hand never used bronze. Instead I worked with a sure and practiced hand directly with my punches and various anvils. In the time required by Caradosso to cast his bronze, I could get days ahead ‘with my own work.


Techniques of embossing require the skill to form the concave or convex impressions on the surface of metal. Engraving involves using tools to cut desired designs into metal. The technique of engraving involves either graving or cutting. The former generally refers to linear work while the latter usually in volves the creation of negative or positive reliefs.

Christ Mary and john byzantine cloisome work detail of the praxdies reliquary tenth century Vatican library RomeEngraving plays an important part in the’ manufacture of seals, coins and medals. Seals and models I who are unique or produced in only limited quantities are usually made by casting. Engraving tools are used only to apply finishing touches. Relief images required in large quantities are produced by the stamping technique. The simplest form involves a stamping machine and dies which can reproduce the designs contrived for both sides of the coin or medal. The object is placed between the dies and pressure is applied. Modern mints employ automation for stamping, using presses which exert pressures ranging up to 250 tons.

Etching, the graphical reproduction of a drawing by means of engraved metal plates, is a by-product of medieval gold engraving. Craftsmen discovered that the design on a piece of engraved gold could be reproduced faithfully, albeit back to front, when the engraving was  with palm and a leaf of damp paper was pressed onto the surface of the me» tell. The original purpose was not to churn out long runs of reproductions; it was to create tracings which would make it possible to recreate designs when they were wanted.

It is believed that the first engravings were made early in the fifteenth century in southern Germany. Among the most important early engraves was the, so-called playing card master” and someone known as Master E. S. Their skills were inherited and developed by Martin Schongauer. Etching is closely related to engraving. It is likely that the technique was influenced by the experiences of armorers who etched ornamentation on armor and weapons.

The Niello process

Niello work is among the oldest of the goldsmith’s ornamental devices. A durable, ineradicable contrasting substance was needed to highlight engraved ornaments and designs when hollows on decorative objects were intended to be darkened in color. Niello proved to be the most appropriate alloy, consisting of silver, copper, lead and sulfur. It appears to have first been used in Creto Mycenaean times. But the technique remains unaltered. The niello is simply melted into engraved lines and surfaces of the object.

Crucifixion byzantine gold panel fifth sixth century residenz treasury mumichBenvenuto Cellini. Wrote in his Treatise on the Art of the Goldsmith When I was fifteen years old in the fifteenth year of our century (1515) and began to learn my craft as a goldsmith, the art of niello work was in decline. Some of the older apprentice craftsmen knew nothing better than to talk of the beauty of this art and to recall those masters who could still employ it, above all certain Finiguerra It was not altogether easy for me to discover how to produce the niello. It was not enough for me. to overcome the great difficulties presented by nielloing. I had to learn also how to prepare the niello itself, but that made it easy for me to produce work in this manner.”

Cellini then went into great detail about the preparation of the niello mixture. To produce an even, non-porous niello effect, he advised craftsmen to cook. The object to be worked on in a mixture of ash and water for fifteen minutes and then to brush it thoroughly the niello powder should then be laid on its surface to the thickness of a table knife. It should then be slowly heated until the mixture begins to melt. Take care that it is not heated too much, because as soon as the niello becomes warm or owing, it loses its natural characteristics it grows and, because it is largely made of lead, it corrodes the gold or silver of your work. Take heed for this advice; it is almost as important as good engraving.

When the niello has penetrated evenly into the f ices, the object is allowed to cool. Then is filed away until the gold almost shows tough again the object is then warmed again and polished with polishing steel. The engraving is gm scraped clear and the object is lapped until it looks even and Fine and beautiful. Cellini conludes his account Dear reader, do not be surprised that I have described this process in such detail. Know that 1 have told not even the half of what is necessary for this art an art which requires such total dedication from a person that he can occupy him- self with no other work at the same time. In my youth, from the age of fifteen to eighteen, I did a lot of niello work, always with my own designs, and my work was much praised.


For the craft of the goldsmith, intaglio work responds to the cabinet marker inlay - two 1 metals are combined to achieve a visually ifs effect.

Most often, a softer metal is set in a harder m and gold is, therefore, commonly employed for purpose. The goldsmith first carves the design in a hard metal with a graver or a chisel, making certain that the cavity is greater at the bottom than at top. This wedge-shaped outline must hold the softer metal in place when it is hammered in. When world’ with Vessels, the hollow spaces are filled with pup” or resin. A skilled goldsmith can combine gold with silver intaglio on a copper bronze or iron surf to create especially striking double intaglio effect Chinese craftsmen often use strips of gold leaf fix at the edges through undercutting.

The classic art of intaglio is difficult to master but it can be imitated in various ways. Reproductions of ancient weapons often display facsimiles intaglio techniques. Patterns of the original decoratio are traced on metal. The rest of the weapon is covered with lacquer while the decorations are subject to gold electroplating.

Enamel- Champleve and Cloisonne

Statuette of St. George. About 1590. Residenz Treasury, MunichIt is likely that goldsmiths of Egypt in the fourth millennium BC discovered that certain types of sand liquefy in fire and cool to form rigid pieces of glass paste. Thus chance probably led to the formation of enamel long before enamelling techniques were known. About the same time, a transparent and colorless substance of enormous potential use glass was invented.

The fascination of enamel for artisans throughout history derives partly from the intensity of its color which, unlike that of paint, is barely affected by heat or wear.

Champleve enamel, like niello or intaglio, is based of inserting decorative filling into or, formed cavity. Colored glass powder the hollow. When it is warmed, it melts to tilt metal surface. The technique is large surfaces with decorative forms only few strong contrasting colors. Champ the boundaries of the enamelled than does the cloisonné method.

It is impossible to say for certain when and where of enamelling - over and above the of enamel took root and developed. Though Egyptian tombs have yielded gold jewelry decorated with gleaming glass paste, it is difficult to determine whether this was real enamel work or whether the pieces of glass were cast separately, polished and then set like precious stones. The earliest work that can be definitely classified as enamel comes from Cyprus in the twelfth century BC.

The cloisonné method first made its appearance in the early middle Ages and flourished until the end of the Romanesque period. The most magnificent specimens are the works of Byzantine artists. Cloisonne work begins with the gouging out or etching of the intended design, to the edges of which strips of gold are soldered. These gold strips 5 follow the outlines of the Figure to be accentuated, 6 mark the lines and folds of a garment design or I set off other details of the work. The enamel powder I is then carefully placed in the various compartments” thus formed. The object is heated until the powder melts. Then the decorative surface is lapped I and polished so that the enamel and the gold strips form an even surface. The use of transparent glass considerably enhances the effect of the gold.

The school of Limoges in France developed cloisonné techniques along special lines by using different kinds of coloring in various ways. More fistic images were achieved than the flat and abstract imagery enamel techniques had previously prod  These painter-enamel techniques made possible emergence of miniature enamel works, the prod of artists who were probably more closely related‘ traditional painters than to traditional goldsmiths.

Gold enamel

Gold enamelling refers to the process in which gold. Usually cast, is covered with glass, usually either milky white or colored and transparent. The technique was much favored in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to decorate small statuary, miniature altars, table ornaments and jewelry.

Golden White Horse. End of Fourteenth Century. Pilgrim’s Church of Altotting Detail and Ensemble The most famous gold enamel objects are also among the earliest, the so-called “Golden White Horse in the Pilgrim’s Church of Allotting, Germany and the figure of “Our Lady in the Garden which King Charles VI of France received on New Year’s Day 1404 from his wife, Isabella of Bavaria. The Golden White Horse was originally a reliquary, although there is no record of what relics it contained. Its reputation is based on the magnificence of the white horse, and its saddle and bridle rather than on its religious significance. In this particular case, the enamel overlay obscures the sheen of gold, creating a mood appropriate to the contemplative spirit of prayer. For other objects, the technique is designed to enhance the glimmer and majesty of gold.

Charles VI - the goldsmith portrayed him in pious prayer before the Madonna and the Baby Jesus pawned the “Golden white Horse” to his brother-in the duke of Bavaria. The duke, in turn, rowed- 57,000 guilders from the monastery at Allotting to finance his cause in a local war of success in the debt was never repayed and the Golden white Horse passed into possession of the monastery as forfeit for the debt shortly after 1500.

The statuette of St. George, made two centuries used holy relics housed in its pedestal as and for a magnificent piece of miniature sculpture. Its religious motif, its gold, diamonds, rubies other precious stones were intended to be if of attention.


The techniques of filigree (from the Latin film gramm twisted wire) are almost as old as the processes for making gold wire. Filigree can be thought of as the twisting together of two gold threads, a technique derived from working with textiles. It imparts an aesthetic charm to gold wire, as well as it making the wire stronger. Even more decorative and effective are plaits of wire which have been embossed with regular patterns. Nowadays filigree is produced E with the use of specially designed rollers.

True filigree work especially that produced for decorative purposes Places particular stress on sol-during techniques the delicacy of the art can be fully appreciated only when the solder is impcriceprihle.

According to Benvenuto Cellini, 'hose who were masters of this technique were people well trained in drawing leaves and lattice work because everything made with filigree has to be drawn first.

Writer-Peter killer

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