Basse-taille – Design Term

Basse-taille is a method for enamelling the graves or graves low-reliefs on a metal surface, typically gold or silver, and then covers it with translucent glazed enamel. (French: ‘low-cut’) This technique dramatises the play of light and shadow over the low-cut design and also gives the item a tone of brilliance. Base-taille enamelwork, produced in Italy in the 13th century, was particularly common during the Gothic and Renaissance periods in Europe.

Brooch/Pendant “Golden Sampler”


The method of making basse-tail enamel started by marking the outline of the pattern and the main internal outlines of the gold with a tool called a “tracer”. The interior was then worked, either with chasing tools, hammering and punching instead of cutting or with chisels, to create a shallow recess to retain the enamel. The more important parts of the design were modelled by changing the depth of the surface to produce different colour intensity when translucent enamel was added. For example, in the Royal Gold Cup, gold under drapery folds frequently rises close to the surface to create paler highlights. 

Reliquary Pendant 15th century

In many of the recessed areas, more decoration has been applied either through engraving or by punching through a transparent enamel, or by facing the background so that the reflections change subtly as the viewing angle changes. Most of the background areas of the enamelled scenes were painted in the same wayThe surfaces were eventually smoothed, done well and polished, maybe including scratching bumps on the back of the metal. 

The enamel lay flush with the gold surfaces; it was a preparation of finely ground glass paste applied with great care to the prepared recessed areas, and then fired. When various enamel colours meet each other with a neat border, this was done by firing one colour with a gum tragacanth retaining border before adding the next. The difficulty was also increased by adding tints of a different colour to the base hue of the enamel before firing so that the added colour gradually blends into the background colour around the edges of the tinted patch. This is mainly used as in-ground areas, rocks and trees, on “flux” or colourless enamel. Flux was also used for flesh areas in the Royal Gold Cup as it darkens slightly on a gold backdrop as it is challenging to get a suitable skin colour. By adding tiny particles of copper, silver and gold to the glass, the rouge clair or “ruby glass” red, used so effectively here was produced. After firing, the enamel was polished with the metal around it which was possibly the last to be decorated.


Basse-taille – HiSoUR – Hi So You Are.

Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Basse-taille. Encyclopædia Britannica.

Wikipedia contributors. (2020, December 7). Basse-taille. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:47, December 19, 2020, from

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