History of the ENAMEL Network

Agnès Gall-Ortlik, ENAMEL network leader

The ENAMEL network is the result of a joint initiative launched in 2006 by Gerhard Eggert on behalf of Christian Degrigny and Lisa Pilosi, at the time coordinators of the Metal and the Glass & Ceramics working groups (WG) of ICOM-CC. In early 2006, Gerhard sent out a questionnaire to members of both working groups, as well as to the participants of the ICOM-CC triennial conference in The Hague in September 2005, asking them what were their interests in relation to composite objects (with a close link between metal and glass or metal and ceramics), such as stained glass, scientific instruments or metallurgical crucibles. Out of thirty-five responses obtained, thirty indicated enamel on metal as subject of interest (stained glass came as second, with sixteen votes).

Therefore, conservation of enamels on metal was the subject chosen for a first discussion meeting. Thanks to the financial assistance of the European programme COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology), the meeting was quickly organised and took place in France on July 1-2, 2006. The circa twenty participants were warmly welcomed by Christian Degrigny in the Castle of Germolles, Burgundy. Nineteen presentations related to the conservation of enamels on metal were shared and confirmed the need for research and communication on the subject. At the end of these two days the participants decided to create the "Enamel on Metals Conservation Network" (EMCN), having as main goal the improvement of communication and exchanges on the conservation of enamels on metal. In the spring of 2007, Hannelore Römich, at that time COST officer, disseminated the CDs of the presentations and Gerhard Eggert published the first newsletter of the network, with already thirty-three members listed in it.

I had the chance to attend the first meeting with great interest. After writing my final dissertation at the Institut national du patrimoine (Inp) in Paris on the conservation of two Limoges enamels, I noticed the obvious lack of bibliographical references on the conservation of this type of composite objects and the difficulty in finding reliable information to support treatments. Since the late 1980s, there is a working group in the Service des musées de France responsible for identifying and documenting the conservation condition of painted enamels in public collections, a group coordinated by the Musée municipal de l’Evêché in Limoges. But its activities had not been made public. The meeting in Germolles was therefore an intense and stimulating moment, the first in a long series, gradually transforming the network of 33 people into an international and interdisciplinary group of currently more than 110 professionals, bringing together not only conservators and curators, but also scientists and enamellers from 19 different countries.

Having published a first bibliography on the conservation of enamels in 2001 and an article in 2002 on the history of treatments carried out on these objects, together with Béatrice Beillard, reference conservator for enamels in France, Gerhard proposed me to assist him in the coordination of the network. In 2008, the year of the second meeting, I had the opportunity to invite its members to Rome, at the Académie de France, where I was resident to undertake the study and condition report of the enamel collection of the Musei Vaticani. With eighty participants from more than ten countries who had the chance to be welcomed at Villa Medici on March 10-11, 2008, this meeting was one of our most successful. In contrast to Germolles, short summaries of the presentations were printed and distributed to participants in the form of a booklet. A special visit was organised to the Vatican Museums for the authors, who benefited from the guide of Guido Cornini, curator of the Department of Decorative Arts and responsible for the collection of enamels and that of Flavia Callori, metal conservator, head of the conservation laboratory of archaeological objects. It was during this meeting that Gerhard Eggert proposed to the members of the network to appoint me as new coordinator of the group in his place, with Cátia Viegas Wesolowska as assistant. The majority of participants approved this 'perfect couple', consisting of a glass conservator (myself) and a metals conservator (Cátia), both members of one of the network's founding ICOM-CC working groups.

The successful formula of the symposiums of the ENAMEL network also took shape in Rome: a day and a half of lectures, followed by a half-day of a special visit reserved for authors, and the publication of oral presentations in the form of abstracts. Short summaries turned into extended abstracts, but the choice of not publishing full papers was voluntary, so that authors could publish their research in other journals or organisations. This lightened formula is also more relevant to the purpose of the network, to communicate in a leaner way between all its members. A newsletter is published every year, and from 2008 the group changed its name from EMCN, the name chosen in Germolles, to ENAMEL.

In 2010 we were fortunate enough to be invited to the United States by Julia Day, object conservator working at the Frick Collection (New York), who was starting research on the renovation of the showcase of painted enamels from the Renaissance period. Our symposium that year took place in between the ICOM-CC Glass and Ceramics WG interim meeting in Corning, NY, and the Metal WG interim meeting in Charleston (SC). This allowed some of our colleagues specialised in one of the two materials to meet in New York around enamels at the Frick Collection. It was also the first time that we welcomed posters and the presentations were published as bound extended abstracts. Some of the presentations were also filmed and are viewable on the internet, such as those of Angelo Agostino, Birgit Schwahn, Fredric Schneider, and my own presentation on the bibliography (www.frick.org/tags/enamel). Since this conference, Julia Day has teamed up with Cátia and myself to take care of the network.

In 2012 I managed to invite members of the network again, this time to Barcelona, Catalonia, thanks to a grant from the Spanish Ministry of Culture obtained through my own heritage conservation company COREBARNA SL, based in Barcelona. The symposium was held at The Museu d'història de Catalunya (MHC), a museum without an enamels collection but a welcoming spirit! The presentations were published in the form of a bound booklet. The special visit took place at the Museum nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), during which the authors were able to observe some less fortunate treatments to Limoges medieval enamels by non-specialised restorers. The novelty of this meeting was the organisation of a workshop of enamel techniques three days preceding the conference. Thanks to the presence of the artistic enamelling training department of the Llotja School of Applied Arts and the passion of its two professors, Andreu Vilasís and Núria Lopez Ribalta, eleven participants were able to practice painted enamel, with application of paillons, opaque and transparent enamels, miniature enamel with vitrifiable colours and had a glimpse at the work of grisaille and at the making of cloisonné enamels. The majority of the participants were conservators but we also had three art historians among us. Suzanne Higgott of the Wallace Collection was lucky enough to do a “hot repair” on her enamel during the masterclass!

In 2014 David Thickett welcomed us to London to the Ranger's House (Greenwich), where, among his main position as senior conservator scientist, he is responsible for the preservation of the painted enamels at the Wernher collection on display in the 17th century manor house. David explained how the system used to maintain a stable climate in the showcases of the Wernher collection works, and Suzanne Higgott and David Edge offered speakers a visit to the enamel collections of the Wallace Collection and, finally, Catherine Nightingale gave the authors a special tour of the enamelled jewellery of the Cheapside Hoard at the Museum of London. This was a hands on tour, where participants were able to handle the artifacts and examine them closely.

In 2016, Cátia Viegas Wesolowska, based in Poland, was the local organiser of the colloquium, together with her colleague Anna Mistewicz, metal conservator working at the National Museum in Warsaw. Since its ten years of existence the network visited for the first time Central Europe, to a country whose language does not facilitate international exchanges and access to publication sources. The presence of two professionals from Taiwan among the audience was also a first for our network. In front of an audience of fifty professionals from twenty different countries, fourteen presentations and four posters were presented. Faithful to the tradition, special visits were also organised, like that of the enamel collection of the National Museum in Warsaw, which keeps an exceptional group (over 300 objects) of Chinese and Japanese enamels of the 18th and 19th century, and a guided tour of the city of Warsaw. A special visit for speakers was also held at the Wilanow Palace to introduce us to its collection of Limoges enamels and Asian painted enamels.

Invited by Gerhard Eggert, ENAMEL 2018 is convened in Germany at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart in cooperation with Landesmuseum Württemberg. The network continues to exist, communicating mainly at the time of its meetings, more "sleepy" during the interim years. But its existence is still justified by a constant need for information on enamels on metal, their methods of manufacture, their ways of alteration and their means of preservation. Discrete but fascinating objects, with a very wide diffusion in time and geographically, many museums in the world preserve some of them, whether they are painted enamels from Limoges or cloisonné enamels or medieval champlevés, or jewellery on gold or silver and even cooking utensils enamelled on iron. Since the existence of the ENAMEL network, the number of publications has increased significantly and research groups have been created around the world, remarkably enriching the useful information for all those who need to preserve or treat enamels on metal. Let's wish a long life to this network of international experts!