Champlevé is an enamelling technique in the decorative arts, or an object made by that process, in which troughs or cells are carved or cast into the surface of a metal object, and filled with vitreous enamel. The piece is then fired until the enamel melts, and when cooled the surface of the object is polished.
The uncarved portions of the original surface remain visible as a frame for the enamel designs; typically they are gilded in medieval work. The name comes from the French for "raised field", "field" meaning background, though the technique in practice lowers the area to be enamelled rather than raising the rest of the surface.
Champlevé is suited to the covering of relatively large areas, and to figurative images, although it was first prominently used in Celtic art for geometric designs. In the Romanesque its potential was fully used, decorating caskets, plaques and vessels.
Champlevé is distinguished from the technique of cloisonné enamel in which the troughs are created by soldering flat metal strips to the surface of the object. The difference between the techniques is analogous to the woodworking techniques of intarsia and marquetry. It differs from the basse-taille technique, which succeeded it in the highest quality Gothic work, in that the bottoms of the recesses for the enamel are rough, and so only opaque enamel colours are used. In basse-taille the recesses are modelled, and translucent enamels are used, for more subtle effects, as in the 14th century Parisian Royal Gold Cup.
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