Enamelling is an ancient art. About its origins, Sir George Birdwood writes: “It is probably Turanian art introduced into China by Venechi and was carried early, if not earlier, into India. From Assyria it probably passed into Egypt and through the Phoenicians to Europe”. Persia, India, China and Japan developed enamelling to great perfection, both artistically and technically.
Enamels are types of coloured glass, clear and opaque, used for decorating metals like gold, silver, copper and bronze. Enamels are also employed for painting on porcelain. The components of enamels are: silica, minium (red lead) and potash.
Although as many as seven types of enamel decoration are known, only two of them are outstanding. They are: (1) Champleve enamelling and (2) Cloisonne enamelling.
Champleve enamelling is the oldest process. This technique consists of cutting small spaces or cells in the plate, leaving out narrow walls raised between them, thus separating each cell. In these cells the powdered enamels are placed and then fused. Afterwards, the enamel is filed and smoothed
In Cloisonne enamelling the body of the article is covered in a series of cells (or cloisons) by means of wire soldered on to the surface. The cells are then filled with powdered enamel.
In India, Champleve enamel has been in use since the advent of the Mughals. It is said that emperor Akbar had a special department in his court for enamelling. Other centre where Meenakari work (enamelling) is done are Alwar, Banaras, Delhi, Lucknow and Kashmir.
Cloisonné enamelling was practiced with best results by the Chinese and Japanese. The enamels done in China during the Ming period (13th to 17th centuries) are bold in design with fine depth and purity of colour.
A sizeable collection of Indian Champleve enamel and Chinese and Japanese Cloisonne can be studied in Salar Jung Museum. Chinese cloisonné ware of Ming and Ching periods is distinguished by purity of colour and depth of design.
Dep. Keeper (Retd)
Salar Jung Museum
Enamels are types of coloured glass, clear and opaque, used for decorating metals like gold, silver, copper and bronze