How was it made? Champlevé enamelling

Between the years 1100–1250, specialist metalworkers flourished in the areas around Cologne (Germany), Liège (Belgium) and Limoges (France). They supplied monasteries and churches with vessels essential for the rituals of the church such as chalices, crosses, candlesticks, altarpieces and shrines.

The large shrines and altarpieces were particularly complex structures – they had a wooden core overlaid with metal, and were engraved and embellished with brilliantly coloured gems or enamel plaques.

The technique of enamelling used intense heat to fuse glass onto a prepared metal surface, allowing the metalworker to create brightly coloured images. Medieval enamellers used several different techniques, but champlevé enamelling was one of the most common. The word champlevé means literally 'raised fields', referring to the way that beds were dug out of a copper plate to receive the powdered enamel.

Ornate copper box in the form of a shrine; on the front are figures of Christ and nine saints. The figures stand beneath an arcade of Romanesque arches, on a light and dark blue ground, covered with gold floral scrolls. with red highlights. The back contains a floral pattern
Reliquary, unknown maker, about 1185 – 95, Limoges, France. Museum no. 7945-1862. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Watch as a small plaque based on a detail from a reliquary chest made around 1180 in Limoges is recreated, following the key stages involved in producing champlevé enamel. Whilst the basic process remains the same, medieval enamellers used kilns fuelled with charcoal and relied on their judgement when firing the enamel plaques.

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Background image: Reliquary, unknown maker, about 1185 – 95, Limoges, France. Museum no. 7945-1862. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London