This section is from the book "Arts & Crafts Magazine Vol1-2", by Hutchinson & Company.
OF all the processes of enamelling, the one known as "Bassetaille" is the one to which I should like to draw most attention and to see more developed. There is scarcely an enameller in this country - or elsewhere, for that matter - who does work of this kind, and yet it is the most beautiful and perfect form of enamelling. Primarily, it is a combination of enamel and metal, in which the two materials are wedded without either losing its individuality; the enamel not concealing but enhancing the beauty and giving variety to the colour of the metal, the latter, in return, making the enamel glow and palpitate like a living thing. That it is not more practised may be due to the great artistic knowledge and technical skill required. Further, it is a more or less costly process, and therefore requires an educated public to appreciate it.
Now the two metals which lend themselves most readily to this method <>!' work, and which are essentially enameller's metals, are gold and silver. There is a great number of other metals, but so far as my experience goes there are none so suitable as these for this process of Bassetaille. Copper comes next, but it oxidizes so freely that it generally spoils the enamels, and, although I have done some large pieces by this method, I have had to limit myself to two or three enamels, for reasons which 1 shall describe in my article on Painted Enamels. The meaning of the word "bassetaille" is low cut, as distinguished from "bas relief," i.e., low relief. Although this is a descriptive term, yet it only refers to the metal part of the process, not the enamelling. A bassetaille enamel is like an early Egyptian relief (as we call it), which differs from Greek, Roman or Italian in that the figures are sunk below the general surface of the wall, whereas in the Greek the wall is cut down below the surface of the subject - that is, in carving a subject the Greeks always cut away the ground surrounding it, whereas the Egyptians cut their subject into the material, leaving the other parts raised in juxtaposition. After this has been clone, the carving can be covered with enamel until it reaches the height of the surrounding metal. This is afterwards fired repeatedly, until the whole of the enamel is well filled up evenly with the metal. The enamels employed are transparent, so that the carving is clearly seen through them, thus giving a beautiful lustrous effect. There are several specimens in our museums, the chief one being the celebrated " King's Cup," now in the British Museum.
The method of procedure is as follows: - For a flat piece it is simply necessary to put it on a pitch block, or iron bowl, or half a sphere filled with pitch. These iron bowls are made in various
sizes, from four inches to fifteen inches in diameter, and are supplied with a leather ring so that the bowl can he turned it any direction and remain firm while the chiselling is being done.
The pitch is Swedish, and is mixed with plaster of Paris, resin and tallow or oil. To every 4 lbs. of pitch add I lb of plaster of Paris and 1 oz. of tallow. Melt the pitch, resin and tallow in a saucepan and sprinkle the plaster on it, stirring the pitch all the time with a stick or spoon. The resin is added in hot weather to make it hard and prevent it running, and the tallow is added in the winter tostop it from getting too hard. A little sweet oil is preferred by many to tallow, as it is claimed that the metal can be removed from the pitch more easily when required, leaving it cleaner. I think myself there is no preference. It is very necessary to mix the ingredients thoroughly; neglecting to do so will cause much inconvenience afterwards.
Tools and Implements Used In The "Bassetaille" Process.
If the piece chosen is of small dimensions, it can be handled with greater facility if it is made to adhere to an upright handle by means of pine resin and carved with steel tools such as are illustrated on page 22. The process is very similar in treatment to that described in my first article - namely, Champleve, the difference being that in the case of the latter the cutting is quite flat and regular. leaving metal divisions, while in the case of
Sketch showing Section of Metal Plate.
The ground sunk all over to a regular depth.
The space carved.
The carving enamelled.
"Bassetaille" it is a carving in relief, without metal divisions, showing the greatest refinement possible.
If the work is of large dimensions, then it is fixed to the pitch howl (as illustrated on page 193), and the smaller hand tools, such as the scorper and graver, are discarded, and the larger tools, such as chisels with a chaser's hammer, are brought into requisition.
Another way of attaining a similar end is by using a chaser's hammer and steel punches to sink all the parts of the design from the front, and then raise the high parts from the back, afterwards turning the piece over and finishing the finest parts from the front again. This method is not quite so suitable as the first one described; I merely indicate the possibility of it and leave it there - unless for very huge work, and it is better that such work should not be enamelled at all.
The initial outlay is very considerable in work of this nature, as it is generally done upon fine gold, and this consideration may largely act as a deterrent to an artist who is thinking of undertaking it. By the way, it may not occur to anyone not in the habit of working in precious materials that a great deal of expense may be saved by preserving all the cuttings and filings and even the sweepings of the bench and floor. It is also advisable to bear in mind that selling a piece of work upon gold, so far as the metal is concerned, is really an exchange of money, and could be charged for as such.
After the carving has been finished, the metal must be thoroughly - i.e., not apparently, but chemically - cleaned before the enamelling takes place. After removing the piece from the pitch by gently heating it, either with a blow-pipe and gas flame, or warming it before a fire), the pitch is wiped off with a rag dipped in paraffin, and after as much pitch as it is possible to take off in this way has been disposed of, the metal is annealed and put into a hot bath of sulphuric acid and water, after which it is placed in another bath of hot solution of soda; then it is scrubbed with a nail brush in clear water and dried in a box of warm sawdust (boxwood preferred). Afterwards the sawdust is dusted off with a chamois leather.
The metal must on no account now be touched with the fingers nor with anything else which may injure the surface, imparting some foreign matter, which may destroy the extreme beauty of the enamel we are so desirous of obtaining.
Now take the enamels, which have been pulverized and washed in the manner previously described, and lay the various enamels in with a spatula (made of ivory, nickel, platinum, or any other metal save steel) or with a brush, evenly side by side, taking care not to lose the contour or sharpness of the shapes and masses; for here we have no metal dividing lines to prevent one enamel mingling with the other, and if done carefully they will not mingle.
Further, in passing it into the muffle, the greatest possible nicety must be observed in handling, otherwise the powdered enamel may be shaken, and all the labour involved in laying it on will be lost, and fresh enamel will have to be pulverized. Should such an accident occur, there-is no use in crying over spilled milk; it must betaken back and started again de novo. It is useless to attempt to patch up the work in this state. Once, however, it has been successfully passed into the furnace, which has been heated to a pale red, it must be watched and taken out several times to see how it is firing. Naturally, it is wise to underdo it rather than the reverse, tor subsequent firings might carry it too far and cause the enamels to blend, the edges become blurred and the whole present an unwholesome, blotchy appearance.
Now that the enamel has been fired and the surface of it levelled with the metal, many of the parts are somewhat higher, and these will have to be removed by the use of a corundum file. Alter this it is finished either by firing again or by rubbing with a pumice stone, then powdered pumice and Water of Ayr hone, afterwards with rotten-stone and oil on a leather, finally with rouge and water on the hand.
IN photographing paintings and other coloured objects, the employment of what are known as isochromatic plates is very valuable in rendering the colours in their true relation to each other. With ordinary plates, the yellows come out almost black and the blues almost white. The increased sensitiveness given to yellows by the use of the isochromatic plate is very serviceable in photographing manuscripts and prints discoloured by age.
Stand (in Bent-iron Work) for a Hot-water Jug, or Kettle
The Wrought-iron Foot, shown unbent. 195