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A retrospect: the Renaissance of Enamel-metalwork in Hungary

2008.11.23
The concept of goldsmith’s craft involves, first of all, the traditional techniques and typical products of the noble arts of gold and silver forging handicrafts despite the fact that – due to strict regulations on the use of precious metals – the Hungarian goldsmiths and craftsmen have not been able to use pure, noble materials from the 1950s until today.
The goldsmith’s art of the twentieth century was connected to the official style of the age: Neobaroque. There were considerably less orders as compared to the previous years during this period and the craftsmen, who could still operate, found hardly any work to do. Their most important customer was the church: they ordered chalices, plates and smaller or bigger equipments, though these were not of high account. The most remarkable goldsmith of the era was István Csajka. After 1945, the situation of the goldsmith’s craft did not change basically. The political leadership was confused about how to adjudge the propositions and the position of the gold and silver forging handicraft. For many leaders, the handicraft only meant “treasure-making” whose unfortunate consequence was the deterioration of the traditional techniques. Old methods, the treasures of our national history, were forgot because of the lack in demand from the society and because the craftsmen did not pass on their knowledge. In this way the highly important fields of personal jewellery making, ornamenting, enamelling and niello works lost their old prestige, though we know quite well that the vanishing and the still existing crafts are united in the goldsmithing handicraft: smithery, enamelling, metal engraving, locksmith’s trade, toolmaking, chiselling, metal casting, modelling, etc.The greatest change came with the 1950s: the goldsmith’s craft was again at politics’ service, as it had been so many times during our history. The goldsmiths were expected to make completely different objects than other craftsmen: smaller or bigger ornaments like bowls, caskets and goblets – and, naturally, on the birthday of Mátyás Rákosi, the celebrated was almost showered by presents. For example, Miklós Borsos, who started his career as a goldsmith, created a huge silver box (1952); Margit Tevan made her chalice called “Béke” (“peace” in English). István Csajka, the elder and László Dömötör created objects of their own in the realistic way of representation. Enamel as an ornamenting material was not common. After 1956, the founders of the new wave of goldsmiths’ generation established their own organization and created the Ötvös Stúdió (Goldsmith Studio) in 1958. Members included József Péri, János Máté, József Nagy, Gyula Szabó, László Dömötör, Lajos Barabás, József Engelsz, József Kótai, György Soltész, József Pölöskei and Géza Kertész. They were the new seekers in the spirit of Borsos. Engelsz (1. foto), Péri (2. foto) and Muharos (3.-4. foto) started to use enamel for ornamentation.

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1.foto József Engelsz: Pieta, enamel chiselled

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2. foto József Péri: Adder-fly, enamel a'jour 

The most outstanding talent of the era was József Engelsz whose period of chiselled works meant a great revival of the golsmith’s craft in the 1980s in Hungary. He was a teacher of the Hungarian College of Arts and had a very special, characteristically Hungarian system of motives and he also used enamel. During more than twenty years, numerous talented goldsmiths left the College who became the followers of their master’s fondness of enamel and used this material extensively in their later works. However, Arany Koleszár (5. foto), Barna Bardócz (6. foto) and Vendel Bicsár (7. foto) only used enamel for ornamenting.

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3. foto Lajos Muharos: Tale, enamel champlevé

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4. foto Lajos Muharos: George, enamel champlevé

 

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5. foto Arany Koleszár: Négy evangélista, enamel rondebosse

 

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 6. foto Barna Bardóc: Antediluvian, enamel

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7. foto Vendel Bicsár: Planetarium, enamel

The International Colony of Enamelling in Kecskemét, which was started in 1975 and led by the painter, Mihály Kátai, had a determining role. From 1984, it was the only existing workshop with the leadership of Endre Turi.

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8. foto Turi Endre: Water-mother, enamel rondebosse

 

He started his carrier as a painter and gradually became one of the characteristic figures among the Hungarian enamelling craftsmen with his notable cloisonné pieces of art. There are plenty of antecedents of this technique, one just needs to think of the Chinese cloisonné plastics that look back to hundreds of years of history. However, Turi’s works are characteristically Hungarian, or better to say, characteristically of Kecskemét. The most important thing he constantly stands for in his pieces is Hungarian folk art, the intellectual content of folk tradition and its objects. The Hungarian legends, myths and wonders appear in his creations. The greatness of his works of art does not only lie in his exhaustive knowledge of materials, techniques and methods, but he also knows how to condense symbolic meanings into a small piece of art. He has the necessary knowledge and he has a way of expressing his ideas. That is why Endre Turi became a remarkable artist of the Hungarian enamelling handicraft, whose character has always been free of self-conceit, putting craftsmanship above all.

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                 9. foto Ferenc Ötvös Nagy: Csanak, enamel a'jour

The 1980s saw the outbreak of enamelling from being simply an ornamenting tool for centuries in the goldsmith’s craft into a separate handicraft. One could think enamel nowadays is exclusively considered to be an ornamenting material on pictures in present day’s artistic common knowledge, known as “tűzzománc” (“fire enamel”, direct translation; it is actually enamel simply), which term might be used to differentiate this technique from all the methods that produce the same opaque, glossy surface that is so similar to that of enamel. On the colony of enamelling artists – where the conditions of a proper workshop were not available – enamelling became a genre of special and unique artistic objects, which took the form of enamelled panel paintings in Kecskemét and Budafok.

 

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      10. foto Erzsébet Kovács-Győző Zoltán: Candelabra, enamel miniature

The other remarkable way in which enamel evolved parallel with that of Engels’s copper era is connected to Ferenc Ötvös Nagy, and brought about the revival of such techniques as filigree, á jour and Transylvanian enamel. The publication of the unique and single specialised textbook Zománcmívesség (the Art of Enamelling) after the reconstruction of these techniques entailed many changes in the further evolvement of long forgotten goldsmithing techniques. After his first meeting with Endre Turi in 1985, Ferenc Ötvös Nagy accepted the invitation and became the member of the The International Colony of Enamelling in Kecskemét until 1996 when he went to Debrecen. His ideas about enamel including the revival of old traditions, the reconstruction, documentation and sharing of different techniques and the launching of education were realised in the Kós Károly Vocational School of Arts and Handicrafts of Debrecen.

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             11. foto Erzsébet Kovács: Seasons, enamel cloassonne

We should also mention among the new generation of goldsmiths who create enamel objects the couple, Erzsébet Kovács and Győző Zoltán who were taught by Engelsz and remained faithful to his views of enamel as an ornamenting tool. His works can be characterised by the diverse use of enamel on sacral objects. Those techniques using enamel as ornaments on panel pictures took a different way in their development. However, there were quite a few numbers of goldsmiths, applying such methods of enamel-metalwork as cloisonné, filigree, á jour, embedded enamel and rondebosse, who managed to create their own special world of enamel. By the 1990s, the number of goldsmiths using the above mentioned techniques stabilised and is constantly growing since that time thanks to the symposium. Nowadays the knowledge of enamel-metalwork has become a common property therefore the art of enamelling at the beginning of the twenty-first century offers a great variety of artistic materials for those working in all kinds of branches of art.

 

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        12. foto József Sisa: Mayor's office in Jászberény (6 square metre)

The art of enamelling has never been taught in higher education where it could take its well-deserved place as a rediscovered material. What is the reason for this? The beginning of the nationwide secondary education of enamelling in the 1990s, first in the Vocational School of Handicrafts in Debrecen, which is called Kós Károly Artistic and Handicrafts Vocational School today.

During the 1990s, there appeared a need for an enamelling and goldsmith’s symposium where the necessary conditions of a modern, fully equipped and up-to-date workshop were created. Thus the year of 1999 brought about the first Debrecen Enamelling and Goldsmith’s Symposium due to the professional commitment of Ferenc Ötvös Nagy, to the maintainer of the school (The Local Government of Hajdú-Bihar County), to Mrs. Péter Csobán, the schoolmistress who is a great supporter and enthusiast of arts and to József Kótai, the Secretary of the Association of Hungarian Fine and Applied Artists’ Goldsmith’s Section.
The Vocational School of Debrecen is not just an ordinary school of its kind: it is not simply a school where art studies are only school subjects, they are the essence. This is a school in which students not only learn manual skills, labour processes and practical tricks of their trade, but they also get acquainted with all the details of folk art behind the various handicrafts based on local traditions. Here the students can use the motives of Hungarian folk art in leather works, ceramic works, pottery, wood works, textile works, goldsmith’s trade and enamelling. This is the intellectual background that the founders of the Debrecen Enamelling and Goldsmith’s Symposium could use as a base and rely on for almost ten years, which they can be proud of.
Enamel appears as an ornamenting material on such creations of the symposiums as jewels, different ornamenting objects, caskets, bowls, plates etc. These objects also represent the various traditions of the handicraft and the different ethnographic values as well as the typical forms and designs of the old traditional crafts. All these values interact with each other and the experiences gained from these symposiums are built in the education.
One could ask the question: Has the symposium acquired the intended recognition from the profession during the last ten years? According to me, after reading the list of the above mentioned results and achievements, one could easily answer the question: yes.
Beside the exceptional professional programmes, the reconstruction, presentation and education of forgotten enamel-metalwork techniques, the last ten years have been characterised by numerous professional lectures and by the creation of a unique collection of enamel-metal works. Some examples:
-   The technique of rondebosse by Arany Koleszár
-   á jour and Transylvanian enamel by Ferenc, Ötvös Nagy
-   Lost Wax Casting by Hlavács Viktor
-   The technique of granulation by Günter Guggenberger, goldsmith from Austria
-   programmes helping the designing and ornamentation of jewels with enamel
-   other professional lectures by Dr. Ágnes Prékopa, art historian of the symposium until 2005; by Emőke P. Szalay, museologist of the symposium from 2006, József Péri, goldsmith, on the investigation of the royal crown and Dr. Ferenc Oberfrank, the general editor of Magyar Ötvös (Hungarian Goldsmith, a professional magazine) etc.
The success of the closing ceremonies held in the dome hall of the Déry Museum in Debrecen and the invitation to the Inhorgenta International Jewellery World Exhibition in Munich, Germany are the proofs that both the Vocational Secondary School of Arts and Handicraft of Debrecen and the Enamelling and Goldsmith’s Symposium achieved their acknowledgement in Hungary as well as abroad.
During the last ten years the following artists have participated in the symposium: Ágnes Berta, Valéra Besenyei, Mrs. Antónia Papp Boboka, Péter Császár, Csaba Fehér, Günter Guggenberger, Enikő Gyöngy, Virág Gyöngy, Bíbor Horváth, Arany Koleszár, József Kótai, Erzsébet Kovács, Zsófia Koszta, Karola Kőszegi, Gabriella Kovács, Anna Rudó, Borbála Őri, Krisztina Tóth, Antónia Szabó, Tamás Szabó, Tibor Szabó goldsmiths.
The creative masters of the former symposiums were Ferenc Ötvös Nagy, the artistic leader until 2004 and Győző Zoltán, the artistic leader since 2005 and their apprentices: Bettina Bányai, Tamás Benő, Anikó Boros, Edina Borsos, Katalin Csókási, Gabriella Fekete, Adrienn Király, Krisztián Nagy, Judit Szabó, Nóra Szabó, Tímea Nagy goldsmiths and enamel-metalworkers and Zita Vincze enamel craftsman. (The list is incomplete!)
The workers here cannot find similar conditions as at this symposium elsewhere. What does this mean? It means that all the intellectual and material conditions have been created in Debrecen that could prevent one of the most beautiful ornamenting materials, enamel, to be lost from memory again.
 
Ferenc Ötvös Nagy artist-craftsman and muzeologist
 
                                                                                                
 

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