19 June 2006

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.[12]

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.


At 24 June, 2006, Blogger Sarah Lowengard said...

Image Links
You can see examples of glass gems used in jewelry, cameos and intaglios (sometimes called "pastes") and decorated enamels at the online collections sections of several museums. I recommend that of the Victoria and Albert Museum (http://images.vam.ac.uk) and the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery (http://www.bmagic.org.uk.

At 24 June, 2006, Blogger Sarah Lowengard said...

Typical or Unusual?
What makes Berg unusual really has nothing to do with Berg himself, or his project: it is that his book of experiments has survived. We have similar records for other people: Wedgwood, for example, but my understanding is that his work was directed toward improvement in his manufacture; Michael Edkins the Bristol-based painter, but as I recall his notebooks do not contain much direct information about his experiments. I would be very interested to know of extant records kept by others learning chemistry and conducting experiments for purposes not directly related to their occupation.


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