Berg’s Project: The Choice of Investigative Topic
The subjects of Berg’s investigation—glass gems and enamel colors—are significant within the contexts of eighteenth-century art, production, and consumption. Throughout the eighteenth century, there was a strong demand for artificial gems as art objects worthy of collection and as colorful elements set into buttons, buckles, cutlery, jewelry, and other decorative objects. Techniques to make gem-like glasses were described in treatises on glassmaking dating from the early seventeenth century. For many years glass gems were included on the premium lists of the Society of Arts.
Investigators studied false gems, as they studied true ones, on behalf of scientific societies. Eighteenth-century philosophical examinations of gems emphasized the connections between these artificial stones and those of the natural world. The conceptual link was strong between the chemistry of glass gems and ongoing investigations of crystallization, undertaken through studies of minerals. Yet the interest was not only economic and scientific: Antiquarians and artists subjected ancient Roman carved stones to an equally intense scrutiny. This interest may have peaked in the 1780s, with the public exhibition of the Portland Vase and the ceramic copies made by the Wedgwood manufacture, but it continued into the nineteenth century.
The glass-based colors used in enamel processes were also important in a numer of ways. Decorated ceramics are one obvious example of the fashionable items that needed such formulas. Berg’s experiments were probably connected to the continuing fashion for small enameled containers that included snuffboxes and etuis, jewelry items, watch or clock faces, and decorative enameled buttons. The creation of such objects would have required good formulas in fashionable colors, often capable of withstanding the wear resulting from the more active uses than those of a decorative vase or wall plaque.