A Brief Look into Vitreous Enamel

… and Where It All Began

This has also been deemed “porcelain enamel.” Basically, what a person does is fuse together powdered glass. It’s usually done by firing the elements into a fire of no more than 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. While this sort of thing has often been only left for metal work, it’s also been used to “paint” designs and layers onto enameled glass, ceramics and metal. The word has its origin in the German word “smelzan” and it basically means to “smelt.”

Where Did It All Begin?

The Persians first began using it during the Sasanian Empire from 224 to 651 A.D. The craftsmen called it Meenakari. The design of an object was embellished with beautiful colors. Therefore, metal oxides were mixed into the powered glass. The technique also begins to catch on in Egypt and India and with the Greeks, Celts, Chinese and the Georgians. Romans used it during their time to paint images on their glassware, as did others of their class.

It continued on for over 300 years. As it continued and more people started to use it, it began to change more. It still kept the original core production, but different players came into the game. Each of them thinking of ways to take it to the next level.

Spread of New Techniques

In Europe, enameled products became popular during the Middle Ages. They often used the cloisonné enamel which came from the Byzantine and Late Roman period. Therefore, compartments were added and filled with enamel in different colors. These compartments were made of thin strips of gold, silver or other metals.

When it came to the Chinese using it up to the 14th century they really began to make thing explode. One of the best representations of Vitreous Enamel is through Ming Dynasty, during the time of Jingtai Emperor with one of the most profound examples, though even this is hard to find.

Because of its beautiful colored, vitreous enamel was also used for jewelries, e.g. during the Art Nouveau period by the Russian jeweler, Peter Carl Fabergé, designing his famous eggs.

Commercial and Industrial Pathways

It finally made its way into the commercial and industrial pathways in 1850. By then, it was no longer considered just a Roman Period thing. By the time the 19th century came around, the Chinese had really taken things with full force.

They have started using high-powered technology and combining the two. Take a look at some of what they do now. It’s definitely not your Roman influence anymore, things have changed.

From the 19th century on, it was also used in Germany, Austria and other countries for commercial products such as dishes made of iron and aluminum. And it’s still going strong today.

A Brief History into Cameo Glass

Here’s a brief look at the history of Cameo and how it might benefit anyone who is studying it. It’s basically a more luxury formation of glass art. All one has to do is take fused layers of different colored glass and do some etchings. The artist carves and etches his or her way into a design. The parts which should not be removed are protected by a layer of wax or other material which is not be affected by acid.

There are only two kinds of glass motifs being used here. It’s either a white opaque glass figure, in front of a dark-colored piece of art. One can use other colors, but it won’t look as good. It’s meant for either the white or dark. The created forms in modern times are flowers, animals and meander scrolling.

It first began during the Roman Period.

The Roman Technique

This is where it all began. There is one other main benefactor to this time. It’s also extremely rare. Most products, such as big vessels, wall plaques and other fragments, put out during their initiation period are not very rare. Two of the most famous pieces of gemstones here are the Gemma Augustea and Gonzaga Cameo. There were much more to come from this period, but these two, by far, are the best examples. Cameo glass fragments are in contrast very seldom.

Most of the Roman cameo glass was produced from 27 B.C. to 68 A.D. and from 300 – 400 A.D. The idea of cameo glass was derived from the gems and other products fabricated as positive reliefs out of minerals like onyx. These stones which were used consisted of different colored layers which were removed carefully so that the background set a contrast to the engraved picture. This method was called Cameo. The small gems usually pictured a portrait of a person.

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia. Only 200 glass fragments from production have survived. Only 15 complete glass artefacts are available today. This is actually a rarity when one thinks of the thousands of pieces that were created in the past. One of the most well-known objects is the Portland Vase with pictures of the Greek mythology, exhibited at the British Museum in London, dated from the first century A.D.

The Later Periods

This was more from the Islamic periods. It was well-known there during the 8th and 9th centuries. Once they were over, the designs and production templates were all but lost in Europe. It was until around the end of the 18th century that some of them started to resurface, but not as they once were. By the time the 19th century began, things were starting to come back.

Some of the key people who brought this renaissance back were Thomas Webb and Sons and George Bacchus and Sons.

According to many reports, this began some of the most artistic productions to date. This sort of artistry, attention to detail, and value on the core principles had not been seen since the Art Nouveau Period. This is the one that was helmed by Émile Gallé and the Daum brothers.

What is the process like?

Glassblowers are also known as gaffers. Gaffers use a recipe that was invented by Ancient Egyptians in order to make the glass. The recipe is comprised of lime, sand, and soda ash. These products are mixed together and heated until they reach a liquid state. Materials needed are a blowpipe, punty, marver, bench, blocks, jacks, paddles, tweezers, paper, and shears. In order to get started, the glassblower first preheats the tip of the blowpipe, then dips the molten glass in the furnace. The blowpipe is twisted around so that the glass gathers on the end. Then, the glass is rolled onto the marver. This causes a cool skin to be formed onto the outside of the molten glass blob. Air is blown into the pipe, forming a bubble. More glass can be put over that bubble to make a  larger piece. After the piece reaches its approximate size, the bottom is finalized. The molten glass then is attached for a punty, where the glassblower shapes it, and moves the hollow piece from the blowpipe to finalize the top.

The glassblowers station is known as the bench, and is where the glassblower sits and keeps his tools. Blocks are tools used in the early steps to shape and cool a piece. Jacks are tweezer-like tools, with two blades, and are used to form shape later in the process. Paddles are used to create flat bottoms, or other flat spots within the piece. The glassblower also uses tweezers to pick out the details or pull on the glass piece. Two types of shears are used, straight or diamond. Straight shears are large scissors, and make linear cuts. Diamond shears have blades shaped like a diamond, and are used to create large pieces of glass.

To make patterns and add color to blown glass, the glassblower rolls the molten glass into powdered color, and in larger pieces of colored glass, or frit. Patterns are made using cane, which are rods are colored glass, and murrine, which are rods cut in cross sections, to reveal patterns. The pieces of color are arranged on a flat surface in a pattern, then applied by rolling the glass over them.

What are the types?

Different types of glass art includes glass fashion, knitted glass, glass panels, and glass sculpture, The term “glass art” typically refers to larger, more modern pieces, original creations, and is usually in public spaces, not home environments.

Glass fashion is the creation of exclusive custom pieces made from sculpted glass. It is made to order, entirely from glass, with intricate detail, finished by experienced artists, with hand executed techniques.

Knitted glass was developed in 2006, and uses knitted, lost wax, casting, mold-making and kiln casting.


It is extremely important to be well informed about safety when learning and practicing the art of glass blowing. To become an accomplished scientific glassblower in a research environment, years of experience are required, as well as exposure to the many fields of science. Glassblowers usually spend ten or more years working in a multi-science environment before being considered “Master Glassblowers”. In the United States, glassblowers learn their craft through an apprenticeship.

Always wear appropriate protective clothing, equipment, and very importantly, safety goggles. Burns and cuts are always a possibility, sometimes severe enough to result in serious injuries and death. Always inspect the entire work area, most importantly the gas supply system, and confirm safe working conditions at all times. Have someone close by at all times to offer assistance if necessary.

Attempt repair to scientific glassware with caution. If the glassware was broken in use, or has been used in the laboratory at some point, it most likely has chemical residue in or on it. Do not make any repairs until the glass has been thoroughly cleaned. As you heat the glass, and out gassing that occurs is deposited directly into your mouth by the blow hose assembly, so make sure the glass has been properly cleaned.

Also, broken glass and leftover pieces are never to be left in the regular trash, as this may cause serious injury to waste handlers. Sharp containers must be used. Glass blowing facilities must conform to all local, state and federal regulations for personal, property and environmental protection.

What is Glassblowing?

What is glassblowing? It is the process of making hollow vessels and sculptural objects out of hot liquid glass. Glassblowing was invented thousands of years ago, and must be done by a skilled artisan. Glassblowing is also knows as off hand glass blowing or furnace glass blowing. Glass rapidly cools, so after approximately 40 seconds of manipulation, the glass must be reheated in a heating chamber called the glory hole. Additional pieces of hot glass can be added to form handles, stems and other sculptural elements.

Flameworking, or lampworking is the process of heating small glass rods in the flame of a small torch to make beads, pendants, and other small objects. Soft glass is commonly used for bead making,while borosilicate is mainly used for small objects, such as drinking glasses.