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Overview of the history of Nielloware around the world

Origin

Most civilizations have devised ways to beautify their metal objects. Some of the methods used for ornamenting metals are hammering, chiseling, engraving, inlay, Niello, enamelling, etc. It has been argued that decorating metal objects with other metals of contrasting colors is simple by creating alloys that melt easily. For instance, dark color alloys can be produced without much difficulty through melting specific metals [4] . Therefore, the early history of an art such as Niello is difficult to establish.

The origin of Niello has been to Egypt during the 18th dynasty (c. 1540 BC - c. 1292 BC), or in Crete or Mycenae around the same time [5] . According to Avieropolous Choo, one of the earliest examples of Nielloware is a silver cup with Niello decorations originating in Enkomi, Cyprus around 1400 BC (1984). However, other authors, such as Higgins and Frankfort suggest that the first examples of Niello come from Syria. These authors, however, propose different dates of origin, either 1800BC or between the 14th and 12th c. BC.[6]

Most sources agree that Niello was rather popular in Roman times, with production not only in Rome, but also in Roman colonies and in Byzantium. An early example of Niello is a statuette of Roman Emperor Nero from the first century C.E. Other Roman objects decorated with Niello abound through the first five centuries of the Christian era [7]. Link, author who specializes in the history of silver, indicates that the highest achievement in Roman Niello happened during the 4th and 5th centuries C.E. [8]

Niello objects found in Europe originating between the 5th and the 10th centuries seem to have been produced in the British Isles, Byzantium, Constantinople, as far as Sweden and perhaps Syria. Among those objects there are silver dishes, brooches, buckles, bowls, rings, early crosses and reliquaries. Niello is said to have been rare in Sasanian silver objects, although there are a few pieces with small parts of this type of decoration during the 6th century C.E.[9]

Although Niello doesn't seem to have been a popular decorating method in China, there are a few examples of Chinese objects with Niello on red brass, white silver and white copper. The earliest Niello object from China is an alms bowl from the 8th century A.D - Tang Dynasty (618-907) [10]. According to McElney, Niello and red brass may have arrived to Canton, China before the 9th century through Arab or Western Asian influences [11]. (1998, p.137) In addition, Gyllensvärd attributes a great development in technique, form and ornamentation of Chinese metalwork in the same period to commercial contact with other cultures as Sassanian, Byzantine, Scythian and Indian.[12]

Niello, or a substance similar to it, appears in three European documents before the 10th century C.E. Those include a reference by Pliny in addition to two technical treatises, namely the Leyden Papyrus X from the 3rd century C.E., and the Mappae Clavicula from around the 8th century C.E. While it is unclear if the substance known as a 'black asem' in the Leyden Papyrus was really Niello, the Mappae Clavicula contains several recipes for the preparation of Niello. The recipes differ depending on the composition of the Niello, on the material of the vessel that the Niello is applied to, and on the mode of application.[13]

There are numerous examples of Nielloware from the 10th century C.E. found in Central Europe, and the British Isles. At the time, jewelry, reliquaries, and metal boxes were still quite popular recipients of this type of ornamentation. Some of those pieces indicate the influence of Oriental craftsmanship [14]. In Persia, during the Seljuk period (1037 C.E.-1194 C.E.) Niello was used to decorate metalwork. [15] In addition, there is evidence of Niello production in other parts of the Middle East provided by a treatise from Yemen, c. 942 C.E., which discusses Niello manufacture. [16]

Although it has been proposed that Niello may have originated in Russia, Rosenberg indicates that Niello probably arrived in Russia from Armenia or the Caucasus before 1000 C.E.[17] Tait maintains that Niello production became popular with Islamic craftsmen around the 11th and 12th centuries. Concurrently, there was significant production of elaborate Niello decoration work in Kiev and other cities in Russia .[18]

In Tabriz, around the year 1300 C.E. Abu'l-Qasim Kashani wrote a treatise where he describes the production of mixed sulphide Niello. [19] In the 13th and 14th, Niello was very popular in France with many different types of objects receiving this type of decoration. Some authors suggest that Niello production started to decline in Europe around the 13th Century as enamel became more fashionable. [20] Nevertheless, in the 15th century there are two sources that mention Niello, one is the "Trattato dell' Oreficeria," by Benvenuto Cellini; the other is a manuscript written by Johannes Alcherius, both contain recipes for Niello. Besides the traditional role in ornamentation Niello became the main element in the decoration of paxes. From that period there are several large engraved Niello silver plaques. At that time Italy had various centers of Niello production, with Florence and Bologna being the most famous. The most renowned artists of that era are Tomaso or Masso Finiguerra, Antonio del Pollaiuolo in Florence; and in Bologna, Francesco Francia and Peregrino da Cesena. Vasari praised Francia as an unsurpassed master in the art of Niello.[21]

Around the beginning of the 17th Century the popularity of Niello started to decline. Consequently, Niello production in Europe diminished considerably. Nonetheless, Niello manufacture was still strong in Russia in the 19th century. This technique was still used until the early 20th century in traditional Islamic jewelry [22] and also in Turkey, Burma, Italy, Russia and Thailand for the production of small objects in general. [23]

Gold Nielloware bowld

 

 

 

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