Art of Precious Metals: Materials, Methods and History.


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Detail of the Horned Figure, from
the Gundestrup Cauldron. One of
the great pagan silver masterpieces
of La Tene metalwork, dating from
the 1st or 2nd century BCE.

For a chronological guide,
see History of Art Timeline.

Metalwork (c.3000 BCE - 1400 CE)
Decorative Goldsmithery & Bronzework: Antiquity to the Middle Ages


Materials and Methods
Hammering and Casting
History of Metalwork (3,000 BCE - 1400 CE)
- Mesopotamia - Ancient Egypt - Ancient Persia - Minoan - Mycenean
- Greek Metalwork - Etruscan - Roman - Celts - German Tribes - Byzantine
- Carolingian & Ottonian - Romanesque - Gothic

Gold Chariot from the Oxus Treasure
(600-400 BCE, British Museum)
An exquisite piece of Achaemenid
goldsmithery from Ancient Persia.

The Stavelot Triptych (1156)
(Central Panel) Morgan Library NY.

The Cross of Otto and Mathilde (973)
Essen Cathedral Treasury.
A Medieval jewelled cross
decorated with gold sheet,
gemstones set in gold filigree
and cloisonné enamel.


In its widest sense, the term metalwork includes any object made from metal. During the era of ancient art, such objects were mostly functional and commonly included weapons, armour, items of equestrian equipment, eating vessels and utensils. Gradually, however, new processes were discovered that led to the creation of new and exciting metallic forms of decorative art, which found a ready market among religious orders, secular leaders and the affluent classes. In this article we focus our attention on decorative objects - including ritualistic and ceremonial items, personal ornaments and sculptures - made out of various metals (or combinations of metals), such as iron, copper, bronze, silver, gold and brass.

Metalwork has its own crafts, such as hammering, embossing, chasing, gilding and inlaying, and intersects with several different types of art, including goldsmithery, champlevé and cloisonné enamelling, silversmithing, jewellery art and ironsmithing. It has made a major contribution to the development of Bronze Age art (3000-1000 BCE); Iron Age Art (1100-200 BCE) - notably Celtic metalwork (Gundestrup Cauldron, Battersea Shield), Persian Achaemenid goldsmithery, and Greek bronze sculpture - as well as early Christian art (300-800 CE) (ecclesiastical vessels, liturgical crosses, bindings and ornamentation of illuminated manuscripts); medieval Christian art (600-1200) (reliquaries, shrines, various types of altarpiece art, ornamentation of gospel manuscripts), and later periods. Great metalwork can be monumental (Sanxingdui Bronzes), portable (Ram in a Thicket), or tiny (Gold Chariot from the Oxus Treasure).

Materials and Methods

The earliest artifacts were fashioned from wood, ivory, bone, stone and earth. It was only later that humans learned to extract metals from the earth, to shape them into objects and/or fire them in kilns. Over time, metalworkers developed a variety of techniques to create different effects. Here is a brief outline of the major processes involved.

Hammering and Casting

All decorative metalwork used to be done by hammering. The various parts of each item were hammered out separately and were then reconstructed by means of rivets, or affixed onto a solid core (soldering had not yet arrived). As well as this, sheets of hammered bronze or copper could be shaped into statues the separate pieces being joined together with copper rivets. A wonderful example of such work is the Colossus of Rhodes 280 BCE - for more, see Seven Wonders of the World.

From 2500 BCE, the two basic methods of fabricating metal - hammering and casting - evolved side by side. The lost-wax (cire perdue) method of casting also emerged in Egypt about 2500 BCE, although it was almost certainly invented earlier during the period of Sumerian art in Mesopotamia. But metalworkers and goldsmiths continued to use the hammer as their main instrument long after the demise of rivetting. Indeed, even Greek art was dependent for its metallic works on the hammer and the punch.




Repoussé is an embossing technique used to raise ornament in relief from the reverse side. To begin with, the design is outlined on the surface of the metal sheet and then copied onto the reverse side. The metal is then embedded face-down in a block of asphalt or other yielding material, and the design-area is then hammered down into the asphalt. The plate is removed and then replaced face-up into the asphalt, whereupon the hammering is repeated, except this time it forces the background of the design-area into the asphalt. By repeating this process, together with some final chasing, the design is made to rise out of the metal. Two outstanding examples of repoussé work are the Iron Age Petrie Crown (NMI, Dublin), and the Gundestrup Cauldron (1st or 2nd century BCE, National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen).


Chasing is the opposite to repoussé. While repoussé is the embossing technique used on the reverse of the metal sheet to create a raised design on the front, chasing is the embossing technique used on the front to create a sunken image. It is done with hammer and punches on the face of the metal sheet.


The cutting or incising of a line on the metal surface - always performed with a cutting tool - is called engraving. When pressure is applied on the cutting tool with a hammer, the process is known as carving.


Inlaying is the name given to an ornamental technique of inserting materials into depressions on the surface of iron, steel, or bronze to form patterns or pictures that are normally flush with the surface. A specific type of inlay, for instance, is the technique of 'damascening' - highly developed by goldsmiths in Damascus, hence its name. First, the metal surface to be decorated is finely engraved with a sharp instrument, after which gold thread (or silver or copper) is hammered into the tiny furrows of the cut surface and securely held. Other methods of inlay are used to embed gemstones or other precious materials into a metal surface.


First used in Egyptian art, this decorative method involves sprinkling Niello (a black powder, created by fusing together silver, copper, lead and sulphur) onto designs engraved on the surface of small metal objects, usually made of silver. After the engraved metal surface has been coated with the Niello, heat is applied which melts the Niello causing it to run into the engraved channels. Early Russian craftsmen were experts in Niello decoration during the period 950 to 1250, and some exceptional works are preserved in the Ukrainian Museum of Historic Treasures, in Kiev. Another example of niello (stud) work is the 8th/9th Century Derrynaflan Chalice in Ireland. See also: Christian Art of the Byzantine Era (c.400-1200).


Enamelling was one of the first and most spectacular techniques used to import colour into decorative items made of metal. In simple terms, a glass-like enamel glaze (mixed with metal oxides such as cobalt or iron, to create colour) is applied to a metal surface and then subjected to intense heat. This fuses the enamel glaze to the metal, giving the latter a beautiful coloured glassy coating. There are two standard ways of applying enamel to metal. First, cloisonné, in which strips of metal are affixed to the metal surface, forming thin compartments, which are then filled with vitreous enamel; second, champlevé, in which the enamel is poured into small hollows made in the metal. (A masterpiece of champlevé enamelwork is the Stavelot Triptych, c.1158, Morgan Library & Museum, New York.) Enamelling has close affinities with mosaic art as well as painting, and attained an early highpoint peak during the early era of Celtic art in Ireland (c.400 BCE - 100 CE).


Gilding is the technique used to ornament metal (wood, plaster, glass, or other materials) with a covering of gold in leaf or powder form. The term 'gilding' also applies to silver, palladium and copper alloys. The surface of the metal object is carefully primed, dried and then sized with an adhesive to hold the gold leaf or powder. (Note: gold leaf comprises paper-thin sheets of gold.) Outstanding examples of these gilding techniques include: the celebrated Ram in a Thicket (2500 BCE), decorated with gold-leaf, copper and lapis lazuli - a superb work of Mesopotamian Sculpture 4500-539 BCE; and the 8th/9th Century silver-gilt Ardagh Chalice.

History of Metalwork


The earliest surviving precious metal objects are those excavated from the royal graves at Ur, in Sumeria, which date from the Third Millennium BCE. In the Baghdad Archeolgical Museum, New York's Metropolitan Museum and the British Museum in London are a series of exquisite items made from beaten copper, featuring stags, lions and a bull's head. Other exceptional pieces of Mesopotamian art include: the famous Kneeling Bull with Vessel (c.3000, Metropolitan, NY) made out of silver by Sumerian silversmiths during the Proto-Elamite Period; and the celebrated Ram in a Thicket (c.2500, British Museum) made from copper, gold leaf, lapis lazuli and red limestone.

During the Second Millennium BCE, Assyrian art in northern Mesopotamia became noted for its bronze work. See, for instance, the bronze sword of King Adad-nirari I (c.1250 BCE) and the bronze embossed gates of Shalmaneser III (824 BCE) both in the Metropolitan, NY.

Ancient Egypt

Egyptian goldsmiths and metalworkers achieved a standard of excellence that, in some respects, has never been matched. Hand mirrors of polished copper, bronze, or silver were common possessions among the well-off, as were copper pitchers and basins for hand washing. An example of the latter is the Old Kingdom copper bowl plated with antimony to imitate silver, which was very rare in the Old Kingdom (c.2686-2160 BCE), now in the Metropolitan, NY.
Egyptian bronzes (305–30 BCE) include votive statues, and amuletic bronzes that were interred with the dead.

Other early Egyptian pieces of precious metalwork include the famous Mask of Tutankhamun (c.1327 BCE, Egyptian Museum, Cairo) made from gold, glass, obsidian, carnelian, quartz, faience and lapis lazuli. See: Egyptian Sculpture.

Ancient Persia

The Persian bronze industry was greatly influenced by Mesopotamian metalworkers. Luristan, in the west of Persia was a centre of bronze-making during the period 1500 to 500 BCE, fashioning precious objects like personal jewellery, along with a wide range of both ceremonial and domestic vessels, as well as objects for chariots and horses. An example of Luristan goldwork is "Prince of Marlik" (c.1200 BCE, National Museum of Iran, Tehran), made by Persian goldsmiths using the repoussé method of embossing.

Later, during the Achaemenid period (559-330 BCE) Persian metalworkers excelled at techniques such as embossing, chasing, casting and inlaying with gemstones. Statuettes made of gold and silver are also known from this period, along with silver and gold vessels in the form of vases, conical cups and rhyta (drinking vessels in the shape of an animal's head), and delicate gold sculptures. The Susa hoard (Louvre), and the Oxus Gold Chariot (c.400 BCE, British Museum) - part of the find of objects created by Tadjikstan goldsmiths - are excellent examples of such work. During the Parthian era (247 BCE - 224 CE), Persian goldsmithing was greatly influenced by Hellenistic art, especially its preference for richly decorated bowls and dishes. But the apogee of Ancient Persian art in metal was attained during the Sassanid period (224–651 CE), when master craftsmen created wonderful varieties of shape, decoration, and technique. Stem cups, ewers, oval dishes, platters, and bowls are the main forms; animal shapes, hunting and drinking scenes are represented in high relief. Patterns were typically cut out of solid silver, or made separately in sheets, and then affixed to the vessel. In addition, the technique of cloisonné enamel was developed at this time for use in jewellery.

Minoan Metalwork

Along with architecture and mural painting, metalwork was an important constituent of Minoan art on the island of Crete. Surviving metal artifacts include: a bronze sword (2000–1600 BCE, National Archeological Museum, Athens) with a hilt of gold-plated ivory and crystal, which exemplifies the wonderful skill of the Cretan artisan in bronze-casting. Engraved dagger blades including many inlaid with gold, silver, copper and niello are another feature of Cretan metalwork. Significant amounts of gold jewellery, silver seals and ornaments have been found in early Minoan graves at Mokhlos and Kumasa, while large quantities of Minoan gold objects - such as drinking cups, phials, boxes, face-masks, and small gold disks - plus silver jugs have been unearthed in a number of Greek mainland tombs at Mycenae and Vaphio. Other tomb goods made in Crete but found on the mainland includegold amulets, a libation vase from Knossos in the form of a bull's head, with gold horns, a gold rosette affixed to the forehead, and gold-plated ears, eyes and muzzle.

Note: the bull motif can also be seen in the stunning sculpture known as the Gold Bull of Maikop (2500, Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg), made by goldsmiths in the North Caucasus.

Mycenean (and Anatolian) Metalwork

The art of classical Antiquity is studded with examples of beautiful metal objects, not least because the mainland on both sides of the Aegean was rich in precious metals. In Asia Minor, for instance, several hoards of treasure (c.2000 BCE) have been excavated from the earliest prehistoric strata on the site of Troy, in Anatolia. The largest find known as Priam's Treasure contains a fairly typical mixture of jewels and plate, featuring gold ornaments such as diadems, bracelets, earrings, and a huge quantity of beads. Elsewhere in Greece and Asia Minor, gold, silver and electrum (white gold), were worked for coinage, vessels and weapons, as well as personal ornaments.

On the Greek mainland, Mycenean art was noted for the achievements of its goldsmiths, such as the Vaphio gold cups - a pair of golden cups decorated with scenes of bulls - discovered in a 'beehive tomb' near Sparta. (Note: some experts claim they were made earlier in Crete.) Whatever the case, Mycenae tombs have yielded a wealth of precious metalwork, including beautiful swords and daggers with hilts decorated by gold flowers with lapis lazuli in their petals. The most magnificent Mycenean daggers have bronze blades inlaid with gold, electrum, silver, and niello.

One particular discipline - gem-engraving - was a specialty of Mycenae. It is seen in Mycenean gold seal rings engraved with pictorial designs, and also in the thousands of emblems incised on precious or semi-precious stones.


Greek Metalwork (700-30 BCE)

The Ancient Greeks who learned a great deal about metalwork from the Egyptians, as well as the Persians, excelled in hammering, embossing, engraving, soldering, and metal intaglio, as well as bronze casting. Greek metalworkers placed the emphasis on aesthetics rather than functionality, and achieved their highpoint during the time of Lysippus, at the end of the Classical period of Greek art about 320 BCE.

At any rate, Greek metalwork is famous for four things. First, its exceptional bronze sculpture, created by bronze sculptors like Phidias (488-431 BCE), Myron (active 480-444), Polykleitos (active c.450-430), Callimachus (active 432-408), Skopas (active 395-350), Lysippos (c.395-305), Praxiteles (active 375-335), and Leochares (active 340-320). Bronze was the preferred medium for sculpture, because its combination of strength and lightness enabled the creation of poses that could not be reproduced in marble. Second, its development of chryselephantine sculpture, a type of plastic art made from gold and ivory, exemplified by the 40-foot statue of Athena Parthenos (begun 447 BCE) inside the Parthenon in Athens. Third, its coinage, since Greek coin dies rank alongside the finest examples of this kind of work that the world has ever seen. Fourth, its influence on the Italian mainland and throughout the eastern Mediterranean, during the era of Hellenistic art (323-30 BCE).

Etruscan Metalwork

Etruscan art, which reached its peak during the sixth century BCE when their city-states controlled almost all of central Italy, is renowned for its bronze sculpture, exemplified by the "Capitoline Wolf" (c.500 BCE, Museo Nuovo, Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome) and the "Chimera of Arezzo" (c.450 BCE, Archaeological Museum, Florence). Etruscan bronze workers also produced weaponry and chariots as well as votive statuettes, vessels, candelabra and mirrors. Their ability to inlay bronze with silver and gold was equal to that of the Greeks and Romans.

Etruria was also well known for its goldsmiths: their work being highly prized around Italy and Greece during the first millennium BCE. A fine example of Etruscan goldwork is the cache of gold jewellery found in the Regolini Galassi tomb, at Cerveteri.

Roman Metalwork

Except for the enduring quality of its architecture, Roman art is typically inferior to Greek and Etruscan models, and metalwork is no exception. Whenever in doubt, Roman goldsmiths and sculptors copied from the Greeks. Pompeii and Herculaneum, for instance, were essentially Greek towns, and the many fine bronzes in the Capodimonte Museum in Naples, unearthed from the ruins of private houses there, are of Greek origin.

The Celts

The earliest Celts were a highly disparate group of Indo-European tribes that began migrating westwards into Europe from the steppes of southern Russia, from about 1000 BCE onwards. Influenced by the Caucasian Bronze Age, as well as a knowledge of Greek and Etruscan styles, derived from trade between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, Celtic culture was marked by extreme skill in iron-making and precious metalwork, possibly absorbed from the Maikop culture of the Russia Caucasus, or contacts with the Levant. (Note: the La Tene silver masterpiece, known as the "Gundestrup cauldron" is thought to have been made in the Black Sea region.) By 700 BCE Celts were established in central Europe astride the trading routes of the Upper Danube. Here, archeologists carried out a number of excavations of major grave sites, discovering traces of two sequential cultures: Hallstatt Celtic Culture (c.800-450 BCE) and La Tene Celtic Culture (c.450-50 BCE). Nearly all Celtic art derives from these two cultures.

Items of Celtic metalwork art have been found throughout Europe, especially in Ireland. Examples in the National Museuem of Ireland include: the Petrie Crown (200-100 BCE) made with the repoussé method; the Broighter gold collar or torc (1st century BCE); the Tara Brooch (700) made from silver gilt with a knitted silver wire, embellished with intricate Celtic interlace (see also: Celtic Jewellery Art); the Moylough Belt Shrine and Reliquary (8th Century); and the Ardagh Chalice (8th/9th Century) decorated with La Tene geometric interlace patterns.

A separate but important category of early Christian gold objects are the votive crowns and crosses offered to churches in Italy and Spain by royal patrons. Among the finest of these items are those discovered in Guarrazar in Toledo Province, inlaid with garnets and jewels (now in the National Archaeological Museum, Madrid, and Musee de Cluny, Paris); the Cross of King Agilulf (Monza Cathedral); and a pair of gold book covers, set with pearls, gems, and cameos and decorated with gold cloisonné work inlaid with garnets (Monza Cathedral).

German Tribes

The Visigoths, Ostrogoths and other German Teutonic tribes who overcame and divided the Roman Empire demonstrated little interest in fine art or architecture, but they proved oustanding in metalworking and in goldsmithery. They were among the earliest peoples in Western Europe, for instance, to develop the champlevé technique of enamelling bronze.

Byzantine Metalwork

Very little precious metalwork has survived from the period of the Dark Ages in Europe (c.400-800), except for items created during the era of Byzantine art, centered in Constantinople. (Note: an exception is the Byzantine gold and copper work which embellishes the Garima Gospels (390-660) - world's oldest known illuminated Biblical text - discovered in Ethiopia's Abba Garima Monastery.)

Byzantine goldwork and bronzework was a fusion of Greek, Egyptian and Levantine art, which reached its peak between 800 and 1200. Byzantine metalwork is characterized by the use of gold leaf rather than solid gold, and a greater emphasis of inlay using stones and gems. In Kiev (c.950-1237), the crafts of both cloisonné and niello were taken to new heights by Eastern Orthodox goldsmiths.

Byzantine silversmiths in Syria, Egypt, Cyprus, Asia Minor, and Russia produced a range of "church" plate (chalices, candlesticks, and liturgical bowls and dishes), as well as secular plate, which was decorated either with religious or secular subjects: see, for example, the Concesti amphora and the Silenus Dish (both Hermitage, Leningrad). The techniques of embossing and chasing predominated, but abstract patterns and symbols inlaid in niello became increasingly common.

Large Byzantine metalwork is exemplified by bronze church doors inlaid with silver. The art of bronze casting had been consciously maintained in the Byzantine Empire. The first pair of bronze doors to be cast after the art had fizzled out in Rome were those for Hagia Sophia at Constantinople, dated 838. The door panels, with monograms and other motifs damascened in silver, are framed in borders cast in relief and embellished with bosses and scrolls.

Carolingian and Ottonian Metalwork

The earliest metalworks known to Carolingian art, resemble Hiberno-Saxon art of the 8th century in their abstract treatment of the human figure, their zoomorphic ornament, and their use of niello; examples include the Tassilo Chalice (Kremsmunster Abbey, Austria) and the book cover for the Lindau Gospels (Pierpont Morgan Library, New York). From 800 onward, however, the classical Mediterranean tradition came to the fore at Charlemagne's court at Aachen and later spread throughout the empire. Charlemagne also revived the art of bronze casting after several centuries of artistic decline, by ordering Greek-style monumental bronze portals for the Palatine Chapel at Aachen.

Most of the surviving precious metalwork from the Medieval era is ecclesiastical: golden altars (S. Ambrogio in Milan, 850), in which Biblical scenes from the life of Christ and St. Ambrose are framed by plaques of cloisonné enamel and filigree; along with reliquaries and book covers in gold and silver, inlaid with gemstones and ornamented with embossed figures and scenes, (cover of the Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram c.870, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich). These works testify to the outstanding achievements of Carolingian craftsmen, whose techniques were to dominate the goldsmith's craft until the 11th century.

Ottonian metalwork of the 10th and 11th centuries is distinguishable from that of the Carolingian court only in the development of style. The larger, more substantial figures, on the golden altar (c.1023) given by Henry II to Basel Minster (Musée de Cluny, Paris), with their strict pattern of drapery, are noticeably different from the uncertain, elongated figures of the Carolingian period. Ottonian art is also known for its portable altars, reliquaries, and processional crosses dating from the 10th and 1th centuries, typically decorated with enamelling, niello, or engraving or inlaid with precious stones.

Famous works of German medieval art crafted by Ottonian metalworkers include: the Statue of Saint Faith (c.870, Sainte-Foy Abbey Church, Conques) made from gold, silver, copper, pearls, and cloisonné enamel; the celebrated gilded oak sculpture known as the Gero Cross (965–70), now in Cologne Cathedral; the Golden Madonna of Essen (c.980, Essen Cathedral), made using gold leaf and cloisonné enamel; and the Cross of Otto and Mathilda (c.973, Essen Cathedral Treasury).

Romanesque Metalwork

Architecture was the major form of Romanesque art, with numerous cathedrals being built in France (St Lazare, Autun, 1146), Spain (Santiago de Compostela, 1211), Italy (Modena, 1110) and Germany (Speyer, 1106; Mainz, 1137), as well as Abbey chapels (Cluny Abbey, 909-1131) and pilgrimage churches. This led to a huge demand for all types of precious metalwork, for aesthetic and functional reasons.

Thus by 1150 the Christian Church was firmly established as the bronze worker's chief patron. Like the stonemasons, bronze workers joined together to form associations, or foundries, and hired themselves out to the large building sites. They cast bells - remember, every church had at least one bell - as well as monumental doors for the church, its baptistery and sacristy, decorated with relief work. Examples include: the doors for Mainz Cathedral (c.1000), Hildesheim Cathedral (1015), Gneissen and Augsburg Cathedrals (11th century), and for St. Zeno Maggiore Cathedral in Verona (12th century). Bronze foundries also made large-size fonts, such as the famous font made by Rainer de Huy for the church of St. Barthelemy in Liege (1107–18), and numerous bronze pulpits.

As well as monumental bronzes there are a number of smaller items that have survived from the Romanesque period, such as altar crucifixes, processional crosses, candlesticks, ecclesiastical vessels, reliquaries, domestic shrines and so on. Among the most splendid examples of figurative bronzes are a group of reliquaries made in the shape of heads or arms, hands, or feet, according to the type of relics they contain. They were crafted in Lower Saxony or France. Another category of bronze object, this time modelled on Oriental pieces acquired in the Middle East during the Crusades, is the aquamanile, a type of ewer used for pouring water for washing one's hands. They are typically in the shape of lions - symbols of valour and physical prowess - and can be highly decorated.

As well as bells, doors, altars, fonts, crosses, and liturgical vessels, another task for the Romanesque metalworker was the creation of stained glass, which typically involved the enamelling of different layers of colour to create the finished image. See also: Stained Glass Art: Materials & Methods.

The emergence of religious orders like the Augustinians (founded 1244), Dominicans (founded 1200s), Franciscans (founded 1209), each with its network of monasteries, provided the Church with an expanding infrastructure of sites and personnel (most famously, Abbot Suger 1081-1151 of Saint-Denis) to oversee cathedral building campaigns, and manage the commissioning of medieval art of all types.

For example, the Benedictine monastery of Stavelot (the Benedictine Order had been established back in 529) located near Liege in present-day Belgium, was a key influence behind the evolution of Mosan art, a regional school of Romanesque art which heralded the transition to the new Gothic style. The Mosan school was noted especially for its development of champlevé enamelling, a technique that replaced the earlier cloisonné method. The leading artists of the Mosan school included Godefroid de Claire (Godefroid de Huy) (1100-1173); Nicholas of Verdun (c.1156–1232), and Rainer of Huy (active, early 12th century). Mosan masterpieces include: the magnificent baptismal font at St Bartholomew's Church, Liege (1107–18); the Stavelot Triptych (c.1156, Morgan Library and Museum, NYC);and the gold/bronze cross from the Abbey of St. Bertain (c.1170, Musee de Saint-Omer).

Gothic Metalwork

The 12th century witnessed the building of Gothic Cathedrals throughout the Ile de France and beyond. The revolutionary style of Gothic architecture - with its dazzling stained glass art, and its demand for greater naturalism in its bronze casting and in the decoration of its reliquaries - kept metalworkers busy across Europe. An example of the latter is the ornamentation for the reliquary housing the rib of St. Peter at Namur (1228) - created by another Mosan craftsman, Hugo of Oignies (c.1181-1240) - with its fine filigree work embellished with miniature cast animals and birds.

As in architectural design, stone sculpture, and ivory carving, the lead held by the Low Countries and Germany during the Romanesque period now passed to France. Architectural forms dominated designs in precious metal; the silver shrine of St. Taurin at Evreux (1250), for instance, is a Gothic chapel in miniature, with pointed arches and Gothic columns.

Although the Church maintained its position as the largest patron of the arts, the growing wealth of royal courts, the aristocracy, and - in due course - the merchants, led (from 1202 onwards) to the foundation of secular workshops and guilds of goldsmiths and silversmiths - in great cities throughout the Continent. Two of the great secular achievements of Parisian goldsmiths - whose guild was the first to be formed in 1202 - are worth mentioning. The first is the Statuette of Charlemagne on the sceptre of Charles V (before 1380, Louvre). Now part of the French Crown Jewels, it is crafted from gold, pearls, rubies, glass beads, gilded silver, and white enamel on gold. The second is the opulent Royal Gold Cup made in Paris around 1380 (British Museum). And although a significant quantity of silver reliquaries and ecclesiastical plate was still being produced, there was also a rise in production of secular silver due to the rise of the middle classes. The purity standards of silver were more carefully regulated, and hallmarking was enforced, particularly in England.

In Italy, around 1280, metalworkers developed basse-taille enamelling - a process in which intaglio relief carving in the metal just below its surface is filled with translucent enamel. Knowledge of the technique spread rapidly to the upper Rhine region and thence to France and England. The Gothic style predominated in Italy throughout the trecento (14th century), notably at Siena, under artists such as Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-1319).

Bronze casting had been neglected in Italy since classical antiquity, except for a few Italian churches which had bronze doors inlaid with niello work by Byzantine craftsmen in the 11th and 12th centuries. See also the bronze door at Canosa (1111) created by Bohemond I of Antioch, and the pair of doors for Troia Cathedral (1119 and 1127) made by Oderisius of Benevento. Then, during the second half of the 12th century, Barisano da Trani created bronze relief door panels for churches in Astrano and Monreale. Bronze relief doors were also made for S. Paolo fuori le mura in Rome, S. Zeno Maggiore in Verona, St. Mark's in Venice and for the Baptistery in Florence, by Andrea Pisano.

The late Gothic witnessed important metalworks such as the Goldenes Rossel (1403, Stiftskirche, Altotting), and the Thorn reliquary (British Museum) created in the 1390s by French metalworkers for the Duke of Berry, to house a fragment of the Crown of Thorns.


Collections of precious metalwork can be seen in many of the best art museums around the world, including: the Louvre in Paris; the British Royal Collection at Windsor; the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London; the Museum of Historic Treasures in Kiev; the Hermitage Gallery in St Petersburg; the Vatican Museums in Rome; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Detroit Institute of Arts; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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