An Introduction to Limoge Champlevée Enamelware Techniques

Arenwald von Hagenburg


Limoge enamelware is a definition applied to a distinctive style of champlevée (fr. "raised ground") enammeling technique almost exclusively practiced in the French town on Limoge from the 12 century to the 15th century[1]. The style is considered to have reached its zenith in terms of style and sophistication early in the 14th century.

Due to the extrordinarily high quality of the products of Limoge artifacts manufactured by its artisans were widely prized and recognised. The result was a burgeoning market and a wide connaissance of the style, culminating (rather naturally) in inferior attempts at reproduction of the style in other locations.

However true Limoge enamel is characterised by its exquisite gravure, and superlative deliniation of figures and semi-ronde figures. Ably supplemented by a unique style of enamel colouration, in which the enamel is applied in concentric lines without the divisions (cloisons) normally used to separate pigments and prevent them diffusing into one another. In fact it is precisely the controlled use of the diffusion of coloured glasses into each other that makes the "ouvre" of Limoge so unique and distinctive amongst enamels of the period.

Archaelogical Data

The work practices and construction techniques employed in the construction of Limoge enamels have (rather unsurprisingly) been a focus of investigation of the Musée du Louvre[Biro95]. Some recent exhibitions and publications reveal a wealth of interesting information on construction techniques, modes of use, and variations in production methods and types of enamels employed as well as chronicalling the evolution of the artistic style in the Limoge ateliers (workshops). Regrettably many of those publications are in French and are not immediately accessable to those without a reasonable working grasp of the French language. Consequently it seems apposite to provide an elementary overview in the remainder of this section.

All limoge enamel work in the period from the 11th to 14th century is based on taking an object (normally of brass or copper) and excavating some of the material to provide areas in which enamels can be placed. The basic idea being to fill these areas with enamel and grind off the surplus to give a smooth surface in which enamel is used to add highlights and colour to the overall design. Later works include low-relief (ronde-bosse) cast additions to add more life and depth to the works, or the basic material is raised using repousée work.

In some examples shortcuts are evident when the pieces are subjected to X-ray and other examination processes[Brio95]. In some notable cases the process of engraving the cloissons (enclosures) into which the enamel was to be placed must have been considered too laborious and so an outline of the shape required was constructed by cutting an outline from one plate, and soldering this to a backing plate. Fine details were then added using the cloisonée technique. This is apparent when the pieces are removed from the mountings and solder lines can be seen. In addition the use of cloison work can be deduced due to the fine nature of the divisions between the areas of enamel.

Overview of Technique

The basic order of construction of an enamel consists of the following sequence. Design and laying out the design, engraving and excavation of the areas that are to be filled with enamel, filling in with enamels, baking the piece to fuse the enamel, followed by grinding and polishing. Finally surface engraving is used to add details to figures and scrollwork or acanthus decoration to backgrounds. Rather than provide a repetitive coverage of enamel construction the construction page for Limoge enamel [Limoge] is suggested the loose translations from the French that are included on the local version of the page are my own work and I take responsibility for the errors and mis-translations that appear there.

Use and Significance

The use of enamel decoration of objects extends to both the sacred and profane. By far the greatest collection of extant objects are in sacred collections and include

coffers, reliquaries, monstrances,
and a range of other items of religious significance.


Reproduction of this type of enamel is not necessarily a matter for the expert, nor should it require technical equipment much beyond the scope of the modern kitchen.

Concluding Remarks

I have attempted to provide a basic overview of the methods and usage of enamelling techniques in the Limoge region of France between the 12th and 14th centuries when the skill and fame of the region was at its height. The later definition of "Limoge Enamel" as highly realistic painting in enamels dates from the 17th century and is outside the scope of SCA re-enactment.

Technical Glossary

champleve - raised ground, a technique where parts of the metal being enammeled are removed and enamel placed into the spaces created. cloissone - enclosures, a technique where small cells to hold enamel are created by


[Biro95] I. Biron, "Recettes Médévales des Émailleurs Limousins", In Les Émaux de Limoges au Moyen Age, Dossier de L'Art, No 26, Nov-Dec 1995.

[Limoge] The web site of Limoge Enamel, The site credits for contributions are extensive and deserve recognition.

Author Biography

Arenwald von Hagenburg is the SCA role character of Arnold Pears BSc(Hons), PhD, a senior lecturer in computer science with an interest in historical reenactment and associated research. Dr Pears has been involved in reenacment activities with a variety of societies since 1984 working primarily with art and craft reproductions. His major areas of interest include cabinet-making, choral and solo singing, dance, fencing, late 15th century and rennaissance clothing, cobbling, tentmaking and jewelery.

His achievements and sharing of knowledge in a range of areas have been recognised by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) by the conferal of that society's highest award for artistic endeavours (The Order of the Laurel). He is currently resident in Uppsala, Sweden, where he works for the Department of Computer Systems at the University of Uppsala. People wishing to contact the author should email