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Medieval goldsmiths

Medieval goldsmiths crafted impressive church objects using techniques like engraving and repousse, a method of hammering metal from behind. They often created reliquaries, containers for holy relics, using these techniques. The video also explores the use of pitch, a sticky substance, in the repousse process. Created by British Museum.

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Video transcript

Medieval Goldsmiths were one of the most important of craftsmen because they worked in precious metals, they worked in gold and silver Always the object of the goldsmith was to make as impressive an object for the church as he could The techniques that the golsmiths used, they were quite varied engraving metal to produce patterns, often floral patterns there was obviously hammering metal hammering metal from behind which is called repousse Repousse is a French word which means to push from the back I've chosen to use an ancient technique in my modern designs because I love the timelessness of repousse I love the evidence of tool marks, the hand of the maker and the intimate creation process One of the objects that fascinated me in the exhibition was the reliquary casket of St Adrian and Natalia not only because it's an exquisite example of medieval repousse but it's a captivating story as well where Natalia's husband is martyred and she's so proud of his martyrdom that she carries his severed hand with her back to sea and takes it in her bed So I thought I would replicate the techniques that the medieval craftsmen used and make the hand, the severed hand of Adrian So this is an enlargement of St Adrian being martyred I'm going to do a low relief of St Adrian's hand here to show you the techniques that a medieval craftsmen might have used to create this beautiful object I'd start with a sheet of fine silver and cut the size piece that I need off the silver and then I would transfer the design and then I will scribe the outline with a fine steel scribing tool so I can see where I'm going when I move over to the chasing station There's this fascinating development of reliquaries as shaped like the parts of body that the bone came from We've seen the parts of feet, arms, heads or fingers presumably to enhance its value and its authority as a relic Great, so now chasing is finished it's time to put it in the pitch pot for the repousse So now I don't need to heat the metal because it's already been annealed but what I do need to do is heat the pitch Pitch is basically pine resin, tallow, brick dust and other materials melted into this compound that when it's heated becomes sticky as tar and when it's cold it's hard as wood The idea of pitch is that it gives you a resistant surface to do the repousse work into without hammering the metal flat like a steel block would So that's why I've inverted the piece in the pitch I'm going to work from the reverse of it, the negative I'm going to push the relief down into the pitch and hope that from experience that it's going to look something like the finished relief that's my objective This is a fantastic reliquary of St Anastasia the structure is of silver but it's decorated partly with gilding and partly with niello Niello is a silver sulphide that hardens and looks rather like a sort of black enamel The doors would actually open so that the faithful could actually see the relic inside And each of them is decorated, each door is decorated with crosses and exquisite little knobs that the priest could open The architecture is composed of openings repousse arches, doors and the little chapels at each end Repousse is a wonderful way of working metal because you can create a relief scene from one continuous piece of metal and materials used to work with as you've seen are very basic and accessible and essentially unchanged since the ancient Egyptians So it's a techniques that was used a lot in the Middle Ages, all through history and I like to think that I carry on a little bit of that heritage in the work that i do