Basse-taille – Design Term


Basse-taille is a method for enamelling the graves or low-reliefs on a metal surface, typically gold or silver, and then covering 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 Europe’s Gothic and Renaissance periods.

Basse-taille. Quatrilobed Plaque
Basse-taille. Quatrilobed Plaque (pair): The Annunciation and The Descent from the Cross, circa 1350-1400. (French), probably by. (Photo by Heritage Arts/Heritage Images via Getty Images)


The method of making basse-tail enamel started by marking the pattern’s outline and the gold’s main internal outlines with a tool called a “tracer”. The interior was then worked 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 intensities when translucent enamel was added. For example, gold under drapery folds in the Royal Gold Cup frequently rises close to the surface to create paler highlights. 

Medallion: The Last Supper, late 1400s. France, 15th century. Basse-taille enamel on silver
Medallion: The Last Supper, the late 1400s. France, 15th century. Basse-taille enamel on silver; diameter: 5.8 cm (2 5/16 in.). (Photo by: Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

In many recessed areas, more decoration has been applied either through engraving, punching through a transparent enamel, or 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 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 edge 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 in 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. The rouge clair or “ruby glass” red, used so effectively here, was produced by adding tiny particles of copper, silver and gold to the glass. After firing, the enamel was polished with the metal around it, 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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