Enamel miniatures, once highly prized possessions in Georgian
society, have been experiencing a resurgence in popularity
with the success of the Charlotte di Vita Collections.
The earliest known enameled articles are 6 enameled gold
rings dated from the 13th century BC, discovered in a Mycenean
tomb at Kouklia, Cyprus.
The first enamel miniatures were made in France in the 17th
century where goldsmiths and enamellers produced miniature
works of art on tiny boxes.
European traders introduced these miniature enamels to China
in the 17th century. Emperor Kang Shee was so interested that
he summoned Jean Baptiste Gravereau, a French master craftsman
working in Limoges, to his court. Gravereau agreed to travel
to the Imperial Court in the Forbidden City in Beijing to
oversee the production of European-style miniature enamels.
Miniature enamels were introduced to Britain later, in the
1740s. Enamel trinket boxes, known as bibelots, became highly
fashionable and collectable luxuries in the high society of
mid-18th century Georgian England.
Many French enamelers settled in south Staffordshire and
Bilston, in particular, soon became a famous and well-respected
enamelling centre, serving the King and the gentry alike,
enriching the aesthetic nature of Georgian society.
By the 1840s, however, the economic difficulties suffered
by England as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, and the escalation
of the industrial revolution meant the industry virtually
ceased to exist. Britain's famous enamelling industry survived
just 100 years. Today, antique enamels are extremely rare
and sought after by collectors.
In China, the art and craft of creating miniature enamels
continued within the confines of the royal court in the Forbidden
City until, with the arrival of communism in the 1950s, these
traditional skills were almost lost.
In 1997 Charlotte di Vita travelled to China, inspired by
her grandmother's collection of antique Bilston boxes and
by miniature enamels she had seen in the Victoria & Albert
museum in London, to seek a way to revive this lost art form.
She tracked down a master craftsman who had been chosen as
a pupil by elderly court masters who hoped this refined tradition
would be preserved and treasured by future generations. He
in turn has passed his traditional skills on to a new generation
of craftspeople. And by reviving these traditional skills,
the project has created secure employment for some 400 craftspeople
and assisted them to generate income and support some 1200
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