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History, style and influences. The schools of Sofia and Tsiprovski - between east and west Europe

The working of silver and gold (Bulgarian uses the same word for both activities) has deep roots in Bulgaria. They go back to the Thracian period, from which some unique, rich treasures have been found, containing true masterpieces of the goldsmith's art. We need only mention the treasures of Panagyurishte, of Rogozen and of Letnik, and many others, as well as the recently discovered masks of Thracian kings, of unique size, weight and art.

The working of silver is already known in Bulgaria in the early Middle Ages, from both the period of the Asian Greater Bulgaria of Kubrat Khan and from that of the foundation of the Balkan Slav-Bulgarian state in the 7th century. The art of the goldsmith is one of the traditional Bulgarian arts, and satisfied the needs of various social strata for jewellery, embroideries, amulets, objects of everyday use, and so on. The amalgamation of a number of cultural traditions - the ancient Thracian tradition (which was distinguished by its high level of technology and art), the Byzantine-Christian tradition (itself, thanks to its position at the cross-roads between east and west, a blend of various western and eastern traditions), the Slav tradition (perfected mainly in the working of silver, copper and bronze, in the filigree, granulation, and cloisonne enamel techniques), the Early Bulgarian tradition with its rich polychrome decoration, influenced by the Iranian and other powerful oriental cultures) - led to an eclectic, yet rich, co-existence of styles, techniques and ideas, which settled into a basis for the creation of original Bulgarian medieval art. The characteristic qualities of gold and silver, the ease with which they are forged, their flexibility and at the same time strength, their beauty and luxury, and their traditional role from ancient times as emblems of social status meant that their use was unrivalled in every sphere of the social and personal life of human beings. We known that the techniques of forging, cloisonne enamel, smelting, etc., were known already to the Early Bulgarians, and that they used anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, floral and geometric motifs. The depictions of men wearing beards, moustaches and animal's ears that have been found make it clear that, like the other Turkish peoples, they were totemists and worshipped the she-wolf as an ancestor.

A strong impulse to the development of the working of the noble metals and their alloys was provided by the acceptance of Christianity in Bulgaria in the 9th century, and its gradual predominance, not only as the sole religion but as the religion that unified all the Bulgars, Slavs and indigenous peoples and played a decisive role in the formation of their national identity. Along with the important precondition that the Bulgarian territory is rich in seams of the metal (there are many around Sofia), another powerful factor was the church, which not only created an enormous market for the artistic working of silver and gold, but also provided for it a flourishing art and a boundless wealth of motifs. The raising of the level of the state machinery, the formation of a wider wealthy social class (which included the institution of the church), the more extensive economic activity, and the urban and military administration, all increased the need for greater quantities, a wider variety, and more lavish jewellery, embroideries and even weapons (cuirasses, javelins, gold shields, {forehead protectors}, etc.). From the same period dates the treasure found in the Hungarian town of Nag Sed Miklos, consisting of gold vessels, a silver drinking cup of Sibin, the prince of Preslav, and other masterpieces of the goldsmith's art. From as early as this time, in the 9th-10th century, the art of working noble metals went under the general designation 'goldsmith's art'. At first it was regarded as an urban occupation, but gradually (during the 9th century) it appeared more and more permanently in the Bulgarian villages.

The basic, traditional techniques used hitherto (casting, forging, decoration with spangles, etc.) were enriched with new ones that came both from Byzantium and the East and from west European practices. Use began to be made of casting models, forged matrices, various gilding and silver-plating techniques, enamelling, engraving, granulation, ?? in plique-a-jour }, the welding on of glass details, amber, coloured precious and semiprecious stones, etc. The evolution of the art of working silver and the other noble metals in medieval Bulgaria is studied systematically on the basis of the best research in this field, by S. Georgievska, Bulgarian Medieval Jewellery, S. Stanchev, The Earlier Tradition in a Bulgarian folk jewel, L. Maslinkov, Old Gold-ware in Sofia, Sn. Dantzeva-Blagoeva, Bulgarian folk jewellery, and Goldare, P. Pountev, Bulgarian folk art. Jewellery, and others. The composition of the present review of the history, kinds, technology, ideas, styles and motifs of the Bulgarian art of silver-working is based on these publications.

The true pinnacle of this art occurred in the large towns. During the period of the Ottoman empire (14th-19th century) the larger centres of the goldsmith's art developed at Sofia, Tsiripotsi, Vratsa , Panagiouriste, Provadia, Vidin, Koprivtsitsa etc. The following, according to L. Maslinkov, is an account of a silver and goldsmith's workshop of the Sofia School. something missing?

The goldsmiths of Sofia were mainly Bulgarian Christian Catholics and Dubrovites. Their workshops were in the goldsmith's market, which was in the Felt Inn. This market was one of the oldest in Sofia. Here, even in the centre of the city, visitors felt as though they were in a well-preserved medieval market in some south-European town. Working conditions were harsh. In small, low-ceilinged shops made of wooden beams and bricks or stones, beneath gas-lights, the craftsmen, { kalaphades } and apprentices stooped from dawn to dusk and hammered their artworks. The shops were closed by clumsy, heavy wooden doors, secured from the outside with a large iron padlock and from the inside by bolts or latches. The small windows were covered with thick iron grills, through which the rays of the sun penetrated only with difficulty. The arrangement of the interior of the shop was fairly primitive. The men worked at a bench made of a long, solid trunk of an oak tree. On this they set the anvil, and there were also rectangular recesses in it for the tools they needed. The hearth was built of bricks in a corner of the shop, with an opening to let the smoke out. The fire was ventilated by means of a bellows made of leather with an iron casing, fixed firmly to the ground. The large hearth was for coarse work. In it they smelted the metals and heated the larger items, while for delicate work, the craftsman had a small, portable hearth-brazier, which was ventilated by a small hand bellows. On the walls were shelves for the tools and jewellery and vases that were either finished or still being worked upon. As well as these, there were chests and cupboards in which they kept the models, matrices and moulds. Near the walls, in front of the bench were the low couches on which the clients and passing visitors sat. The precious materials and ready ornaments made of expensive noble metals were locked away in strong-boxes made of iron or thick, solid planks bound with iron casing. Not every professional had one of these strong-boxes, however, and the goldsmiths who belonged to a guild stored their precious metals and ornaments for the night in the most secure workshop (usually that of the master craftsman of the guild, which was protected by iron railings and had a stout strong-box). As in the goldsmith's art of olden times, so in the modern art, down to about 1920, all the tools and auxiliary items had Turkish names, which were traditional and have been adopted by goldsmiths down to the present day. Museums devoted to the history of Sofia have full sets of these tools.

From the techniques used in Sofia to work silver and other noble metals, we can form some idea of the kinds of techniques used in other Bulgarian centres of the art. The most common of them are as follows:

{ Rivetting } and forging
Filigree and { speiropoiesi }
Welding of precious and semiprecious stones, amber, mother-of-pearl, etc.
Plique-a-jour etc.

Everything connected with the profession of the goldsmith, from assembling the material, smelting the metal, casting it into granules, forging the decoration, casting and shaping cast jewellery and other items, melting the enamel, fixing the enamel, and everything else connected with the finishing of the jewellery or vase, was carried out by the goldsmith in the same place - his workshop. The silversmiths of Sofia were masters of and practised every kind of technique known to silver-working at various periods. The way to make silver items by compression has been known for only a short time. Of the noble metals, silver and its alloys was the main material used in the manufacture of the products of the art. Copper is usually used as a supplementary material in silver-working. Silver of 1000 o / 00 and 800 o / 00 is regarded in practice as the purest and most suitable for expensive jewellery, etc. At 250-300 o / 00 the alloy was known as 'inferior silver' and was used to make the cheapest, most roughly made, widely used jewellery; the purest alloy used for widely used jewellery was between 500 o / 00 and 800 o / 00. Gold was used in small quantities, and mainly for ecclesiastical vessels. Some jewellery was also gilded, but objects made of pure gold were not common. Because of the high prices, gold ornaments and other gold items were not accessible to the broad popular strata of the population. More often, these used gilded objects or silver and gold coins to adorn themselves. Enamel was used in various colours - blue, green, red, yellow, orange, grey and black - and had a decorative purpose. Various kinds of coloured metal (though very rarely precious or semiprecious stones) and above all, coloured glass, were also used for decoration.

The oldest and most widely used technique was forging. The silver was forged with special small hammers, and when thin leaves had to be made, the hammers and the thick leaves were heated, folded into several layers, and forged with flat, wide hammers to the desired thickness. These prepared leaves were forged with small hammers on anvils of an appropriate shape, after being measured and outlined with the use of a goldsmith's compasses. They were hammered from inside out. Sometimes the craftsman would prefer to cast the metal from the start in a forgeable alloy - silver or copper with tin or lead - and then hammer it. Sometimes the embellishment of jewellery or objects with decoration was done after cast relief ornaments had first been welded to the forged silver item. In other cases, after a preliminary drawing had been made of the desired motifs and decoration, their outlines were forged with a chisel or { zamba }. To prevent the walls of the object from collapsing as a result of the forging, it was first filled with a special mixture of pitch and {limewood chippings}. The soft wood and pitch softened the force of the blow and prevented distortion. If the object to be made was hollow, a wooden or iron handle was thrust into the middle of the alloy. This was fixed together with the alloy as it cooled and was used to support the object by means of a vice on the anvil, or to turn it during the work. Flat jewellery or flat walls at the joints were stuck to planks that had been smeared with the same mixture of limewood chippings and pitch.

After the embellishments had been forged, the objects were removed from the mixture by heating them, since even after it had hardened, the mixture melted easily when heated. The dirt was removed by strong raki , alcohol, gas, oil, etc. The craftsmen adorned their jewellery and vases with great skill and artistic sensitivity and complete command of their professional craft. Striking the hammer against the upright { kondyli } the craftsman outlined the motifs and decoration in the same plane as the walls of the object. Occasionally he emphasised some lines by a thicker { kondylia }. In order to render the individual shapes of the decoration in higher relief, the technique was used of hammering the object from both sides - the field between the outlined shapes was hammered towards the inside. This was done with { zambes }, a technique found in the manufacture of medieval Bulgarian jewellery. Rotating {zambes} were also used. These were iron rings attached to a handle that revolved around an axle, the circumference of which was either toothed or cut in such a way that as they move over the surface, they created different decorative patterns through the repetition of the same elements: small dots, zigzags, various geometric shapes, etc. Matrices were also used to forge different elements on silver ornaments and objects. The matrix was placed inside the part of the object to be decorated, which was full of the same mixture of limewood chippings and pitch used to support the matrix. The part beneath which the matrix was placed was then hammered, with a thin plank of soft wood, or preferably a piece of leather, placed above it to soften the blows, marking a preliminary design on the cast jewel. In addition to being forged, the matrix was also compressed. To this end, two matrices were cast from copper - one to produce a positive form and the other a negative. Between them was placed the silver, gold or bronze forged sheet, and pressure was then applied by a vice, clamp or a special pair of pincers until the sheet was squeezed tightly to the matrices and took their shape. Sometimes, instead of being subjected to pressure, the matrices were hammered with a wooden hammer. Sometimes the negative was cast in lead and then the sheet was hammered on it with an iron hammer. Because lead is very soft, this negative needed to be replaced. In this way, ideal shapes were worked on the forged object. Jewellery made from these sheets of metal (bracelets, finger-rings) were decorated by being struck with hammers that took the form of rectangular iron blocks with { loukakia } in different shapes engraved on them. On these { loukakia } were placed previously cast or drawn wires of the appropriate thickness, which were then forged by hammer, until they got the shape of the original. Then they took them out, bent them by heating them to soften the decorated wire, and cast them. Sometimes, instead of rectangular iron blocks engraved with { loukakia }, cylindrical blocks were used, supported by an axle on a fixed handle. The wire or sheet to be decorated was passed between this cylinder and a fixed undecorated cylinder set directly opposite. As the cylinders turned, the decoration of the press was imprinted on the wire or sheet. Hollow globular ornaments for buttons, earrings, etc. were made from round pieces cut from the sheet with a { zamba } of the right size, and then forged. These sheets were placed on the opening of a special tool called a { estek} . The { zamba }, one end of which had the shape of a hemisphere of the appropriate diameter, was used to strike the sheet and it went into the corresponding opening of the estek . The round piece of metal sheet (roundel) was bent into the shape of a hemisphere which was given additional decoration. Expensive jewellery and other silver and gold items were made by forging.

Casting, though not highly regarded, was a technique widely practised by the silversmiths of Sofia to make some kinds of women's jewellery and items commonly in use. In the smelting, non-noble alloys - inferior silver, sheet brass and brass - were most frequently used, though cases were known in which alloys of noble metals were prepared. Pachom consists of equal parts of silver, nickel and copper (or lead or tin instead of nickel), which produce an alloy of an attractive silver colour. This was used to cast spoons, forks and jewellery. Impure silver is an alloy of silver, tin, lead and mercury in the proportions 1:1:2:2:2 It is easy to cast, smooth, clean, weld, silver-plate, and gild.

Jewellery and objects were cast in moulds made of fire-proof stone. Stone moulds were still used at the time of the Second Bulgarian State. The mould consists of two halves glued tightly together, with the pins of one half fitting into the corresponding holes in the other half. The mould has a tube through which the molten alloy is poured in, and other holes to emit the gases produced during the casting. Brass boxes with casting sand, or at an earlier period, iron boxes, were also used for casting. These took the form of two brass or iron boxes, often attached together with the aid of pins at the side, which were filled with well-beaten casting sand. The shape of the object to be cast was impressed in the beaten sand by models, made principally of lead. Here, too, the molten silver alloy was poured in through the hole. Casting was also done with the aid of wax models.

Two separate metal parts were joined together by using an alloy with a lower melting point than the metal to be joined; this method is called welding. Before welding, the pieces to be joined were cleaned and polished. They were coated with so-called tight acid, made of hydrochloric acid and mercury. Then, using a special tool - welder - that had already been heated and rubbed in ammonium chloride or (tetravoriko) to clean the burns and support the welding, they applied pressure to the welded joint. In welding with a blow-torch, the flame was directed by a jet of air on to the part to be welded. For welding, an alloy of two parts lead and one part tin was prepared, in the form of two long rods. This alloy had a low melting point and was used to weld coarse gold and silver work. Thin silver sheets 800-900 o / 00 were used to weld delicate items of gold and silverware. Items and jewellery cast and welded in this way were hard and rough. They were therefore shaped and smoothed by filing, polishing and smoothing with { chrysochoiko ). This technique was used to give a more colourful impression. The precious stones, amber, mother-of-pearl and glass pieces were placed in settings made specially for the purpose.

It was often necessary to add further decoration to cast items by engraving them. Various patterns were engraved or chased in theme using a pointed chisel. To keep them steady during the work, the items to be engraved were held immobile on the anvil. Acid etching was technically a much easier process. The silver or gold object was first well cleaned and then, while dry and cold, it was dipped in a vase containing pure molten beeswax and then rapidly removed. Paper on which the decoration was painted was placed on the part to be engraved, and a hard pencil was passed over its outlines, so that the painting was transferred to the wax. A pointed skewer was then used over the outline of the painting, so that the line penetrated to the metal. The object was then immersed in nitric acid, which destroyed the surface from which the wax had been removed, thus producing an outline of the decoration on the object. After this, it was cleaned with gas, turpentine, etc.

Another method of decorating items of gold and silverware was by using a filling of enamel. As the successors of craftsmen who practised old traditions and adopted a variety of techniques that went back to the depths of antiquity, the Bulgarian gold and silversmiths were well acquainted with how to work with enamel. Enamel was used to adorn not only jewellery but also some of the more costly ecclesiastical vessels or tableware used by the well-to-do section of the population. On account of its technical characteristics, enamel decoration was used in casting silver jewellery and other objects that melted at a higher temperature than the enamel. On the part of the surface to be embellished with enamel, the silversmith either made a cavity, or enclosed a section by welding on silver wire or ribbons with various decorative motifs that were displayed on the surface. The thickness of the wire or the width of the ribbons determined the height that the decoration was raised above the surface of the object. The material used was 'enamel paste', which was prepared from earth ground into a fine powder containing metal oxide for colouring. This was mixed with lead ore and quartz sand (white). Pure argil was added to this powder, to make the colour clearer (purer). All this was then mixed with water and spread on the cavity in the object by a thin brush made of a bird's feather, after the surface that was to be covered with enamel had been incised to make the paste grip. The objects were then smeared with cooking salt, which made the enamel brighter, and placed in small kilns, rather like potter's kilns. During the firing, only the enamel paste melted and, when it cooled, was converted into a vitreous mass firmly adhering to the object. The enamel was often coloured green, red, blue, black, metallic grey-black, orange, or yellow. A variety of coloured stones was used to adorn jewellery and other objects. These were only rarely precious stones, and were usually smoothed and polish flintstones and, above all, coloured glass and amber. The stones were set in specially prepared cavities depending on their shape, and enclosed by thin metal sheet or held in place with tiny clips.

Mother-of-pearl was imported ready processed, and was also widely used to embellish a variety of items. The sheet of mother-of-pearl of different thickness, was first adorned with geometric and floral patterns, and very often with religious motifs, after which it was placed in a nest beneath which paper or cardboard was placed, in order to elevate and to bring out the tsaprazia or mother-of-pearl objects, frequently decorated with cross-hatching.

Silversmiths also used the plique-a-jour technique. Using a bow-saw and a knife, they cut separate figures in forged jewellery, etc; or they pierced holes in it using a skewer, drill, or other tools. The netting of the objects was done with the before hand netting of the model.

Silver jewellery and other items of silverware were often gilded, and those made of bronze or other alloys were either gilded or silver-plated. This was done by dipping the objects in molten silver or gold.

Another method involved using mercury blend or dead mercury. It was done by rubbing gold or silver dust with mercury. After the object was cleaned and polished it was coated with mercury blend using the skin of a hare. The object was then heated, after which the mercury vaporised, leaving only the silver or gold behind, adhering closely to the surface. Silver-plating or gilding could also be carried out using silver or gold weld. Before welding, molten silver or gold was mixed with arsenic in a deep mortar. The resultant alloy had a lower melting point than that of the noble metals. So, the alloy was melted and poured into cold water, where it cooled into granules that were subsequently ground to dust. The object was cleaned well and coated with a solution of cooking salt in water and a fine powder from the stalk of { sphaphykio }. The object was then smeared with silver or gold weld and wrapped in silver or gold leaf. When heated, the gold leaf adhered closely to the object.

The filigree technique was very well known to the goldsmiths of Sofia and of Bulgaria in general. The most artistic and luxurious jewellery was adorned with filigree, or indeed entirely made of it. In the filigree technique, silver, copper or gold wires are wound or braided two or more together, and then welded on a solid or open ground, or used to form a variety of figures without a ground. The manufacture of very fine wires is a necessary prerequisite of filigree. These wires were drawn with the aid of special tools that had round holes of different sizes. Wire, cast or initially cut thicker, was passed through a series of holes, beginning with the largest, until the desired thickness of wire was achieved. The filigree technique was often combined with that of granulation, in which gold, silver or copper granules were welded on to a surface, or to each other.

Filigree was in demand most of all by the very wealthy bourgeoisie. Filigree products required greater labour and skill than those made with other techniques. The craftsman used delicate tools, and sometimes a magnifying lens, to make different decorative patterns from silver or gold wire, that he then welded to give them the desired shape: twisted lines, circles, triangles, spirals, wings, leaves, flowers, and very complex floral, zoomorphic and geometric compositions. The fields were separated by broader wires adorned with cast granules. All the motifs in the decoration ended in separate granules, or granules combined to form rosettes, imitating pearls. Round or lozenge-shaped plaques, often gilded, were set amongst the granules technique.

The only description before Liberation of the place in which filigree items were made by the famous craftsmen of Vidin is that by Felix Kanits: "From ancient coins, the goldsmith drawns a long silver thread, which he then cuts into little pieces. With infinite patience and remarkable skill, his hand sticks wire to wire, adds circles, stars, buttons and arabesques to beautiful Mauretanian shapes, sometimes strange shapes, rarely infringing the style, and gradually, before our astonished eyes, emerge those charming gold and silver drinking glasses in which Turkish officers proffer their scented mocca coffee, and the rich pipes that threaten to displace the valuable smoking pipes, fine ornaments for the heads of Turkish odalisques, and the simplest earrings, hairpins and { tsaprazia }."

The goldmsith's products that were to be welded, silver-plated or gilded, were cleaned with so-called 'stinging water', which was prepared by mixing lime with ash from burned wood in clay vessels with enamel interiors. The mixture was wetted with ox urine. From a hole with a tap at the bottom of the vase, the mixture was drawn off a few times until it thickened and began to burn the skin of the fingers.

In the 16th and 17th century, the development of the various genres of applied art in given regions display a stylistic independence and autonomy that is manifested in different perceptions of stylistic inspirations and the absence of any direct influences between them. The silversmiths of the Sofia school follow the ideas of Byzantine metalworking known at that time. At the same time, the manuscripts of the Sofia school are influenced by the oriental decorative system. Whereas in silverware, Islamic and Gothic elements can be detected as early as the first half of the 16th century, Islamic influences in another pioneering genre of Byzantine art, the art of the icons, are observable, more discreetly, only a century later. Deliberately encouraged by the central authority, the art of silver experienced a true period of prosperity during the following centuries.

The regenerated need to produce silverware for the population of Bulgaria, which affected all sectors of the art - ecclesiastical vessels, jewellery, vessels of secular use, and a variety of other items for the Christian rayahs on the borders of the former Bulgarian state, as well as the highly decorated silverware produced for Ottoman needs - devolved almost entirely on Bulgarian professional silversmiths. Restored at the beginning of the 16th century, the art of silverware in Bulgaria acquired a much more complex aspect and style, which were to be found in general lines in the entire post-Byzantine art of silverware in the Balkan countries. The Ottoman feudal administration brought with it an enormous 'staff' consisting of all kinds of polyglot 'servants'. The silversmiths occupied an important place amongst them, at the wish of the rulers. Since they were at the head of silversmiths' guilds in the Balkan regions of the empire, Turkish and especially Persian silversmiths were bearers of the Islamic current in art, which was a complex amalgam of Seljuk, Persian, Arab, Armenian and other oriental ideas and artistic views. This representative, multi-faceted style, whose features continually penetrated the art of the Balkan peoples even in the previous period, very soon (still in the middle of the 16th century) made its presence powerfully felt in the decorative schema of silverware, and partly also invaded their form. The products manufactured by Bulgarian silversmiths to the orders and under the supervision of Ottoman customers, imitating examples from Persian and Constantinopolitan silver workshops, at which many Persians, Armenians, Georgians, Arabs and other craftsmen worked alongside the Turks in the 16th-17th century, contributed greatly to oriental elements taking root in the repertoire of the Bulgarian master craftsmen. These elements penetrated so deeply into the artistic-aesthetic views of the Christian silversmiths that they are to be found even in ecclesiastical items, despite the conservative character of the latter and the ambitions of the Orthodox church to preserve the purity of Christian art. On chalices, crosses, reliquaries, patens, and censers can be seen Arab, Roman jigsaws of (revithofilon} and other characteristically oriental motifs. Some vessels acquire oriental shapes and elements, while pendants and coloured stones penetrate the jewellery along with the decoration.

The silverware of this period was also inspired to some extent by the art of Western Europe, particularly through certain shapes and decorative methods of late Gothic art. The main bridge over which these inspirations crossed was formed by the merchants of Dubrovnik - the only thread connecting Christian Europe and the enslaved Bulgarian territories. Already from the middle of the 12th century these, along with Venice and Genoa, monopolised Balkan trade with Western Europe. In the 16th and 17th century, this trade acquired a much greater extent, and with it was extended the road along which western European creative art penetrated. Exporting hides, wool and other raw materials, the merchants of Dubrovnik imported mainly luxury goods, a by no means small proportion of which consisted of silver objects of high artistic value. These items, in which the late Gothic style was predominant, influenced the creative ideas of the Bulgarian silversmiths. In concentrating on the directions of western European artistic influences and their establishment in the artistic armoury of the craftsmen who worked silver, we should not overlook the existing creative exchange between Bulgaria and the regions north of the Danube. In Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia, an important art flourished during these centuries that was fully capable of intervening between the Renaissance trends of European art and the artistic culture of the Balkan peoples. Transmitting to the south a great number of Renaissance and Baroque elements, they brought with them on their return the original expressions of Athonite, Islami, and even western European art, thus completing the circle of creative collaboration. The most tangible moments in this collaboration are to be found in the sphere of silver art. In strengthening western influences, a by no means minor role was played by the many foreigners in the urban centres, through their way of life and their material possessions, while Catholic propaganda and direct relations with the West were significant factors in Chiprovtsi.

Chiprovtsi is one of the most important and best-studied medieval centres of silver-working in Bulgaria. In the works produced by the fine workshops of Chiprovtsi are to be found the perceptions approaches of Islamic, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque art. In the final analysis, however, all these stylistic phenomena were simply 'devoured' by the evident desire on the part of the Chiprovtsi silversmiths to adopt them, which gave them a new content and united them in a generally unified style subjected to eastern-Christian symbolical (in the early ecclesiastical objects) or customary practice (in jewellery).

When, about the middle of the 16th century the craftsmen of Chiprovtsi revived the traditions of the north-west Bulgarian regions in the sphere of silverware, they based themselves mainly on the ages-old achievements of the earlier silverware of the Byzantine capital and the national schools of the Balkans that existed alongside it. Certain stylistic features of a distinctive character are observable in the working of shapes, iconographic compositions and decorative elements, based on a strong local tradition, influenced at various times (or at the same time) by the artistic discoveries of the East and the West. Closely associated with the output and decoration of objects for ecclesiastical use, Byzantine silverware and the other arts imposed its strong influence on the formation of ecclesiastical items amongst the peoples who were the empire's neighbours. Gospel Books were almost invariably given additional decoration in silver. In the 13th-14th century, the Byzantine-Balkan silversmiths invested these holy books with full leaves of silver or gold, covering the entire cover, to which they applied decoration in keeping with the stylistic demands of the period. Comparative analysis of the objects produced by Byzantine-Balkan silversmiths and the early covers made by the craftsmen of Chiprovtsi betray a close relationship, which may also be expressed as a direct sequence in the artistic thought of the craftsmen of two different periods in the creative history of Balkan silver. This sequence can clearly be felt in the composition of the leaves of metal in the central panels, and in the strips around the borders of the rectangular fields, and above all in the handling of the basic iconographic motifs. In the sphere of artistic silver book-bindings, the early silversmiths of Chiprovtsi constantly followed a slowly declining artistic idea that had been completely accepted by the silversmith's art of the previous period. Characteristic compositional and iconographic devices of the Byzantine art of the Palaiologan period are preserved more strongly than at other Balkan centres in the art of the school of Chiprovtsi and the school of Sofia that was connected with it. The question arises of course of the continuous manifestations of a deeply rooted local tradition, through which these devices passed into Romanian silver art after the Ottoman conquest of the regions south of the Danube. On the other hand, it is necessary to demonstrate that in the 16th century, the silversmiths of Chiprovtsi imported some new elements into these traditional covers. The horror vacui is here overcome by the application amongst the figures of relief or engraved decoration of small rosettes and intricate arabesques, which give new artistic form to the work of the Chiprovtsi silversmiths, displacing the old 'Seljuk' braided stylisation. The climbing vegetation, stylised in an oriental spirit, that fills every corner of the metal surface of these strictly ecclesiastical vessels does not imply unthinking copying of oriental decorative methods, or the Islamification of traditional ecclesiastical art. This decoration, gradually modified, in which is implanted the symbolical idea of the blood of Christ, spilt and reborn to life, rather indicates the creation of a new artistic style. A new style in which there is a confluence of creative ideas from different sides, and also from Islamic art, but which is nevertheless an inseparable part of and the next step in an eternal, deeply rooted traditional creative art.

An interesting feature of these early covers by the silversmiths of Chiprovtsi is the presence of portraits of founders, attesting to the penetration of the founder's portraits characteristic of Palaiologan art into the art of the period under examination. There can be no doubt that this tendency also affected the Balkan silversmiths of the period in question, including those of the north-west areas of Bulgaria. Through their active careers later in Romania, the master craftsmen of Chiprovtsi formed an important bridge between the style of Byzantine-Balkan silverware and the achievements of Romanian silver in the 16th and 17th century.

In the 17th century, the old Byzantine-Balkan compositional schema used in the covers of gospel books began to undergo a number of changes. In covers produced by the school of Chiprovtsi, the old principle of rectangular geometrical fields was violated and the small medallions containing depictions of saints changed through the acquisition of elements - medallions with flowers and grapes - drawn from western European art. Again under the influence of western European silverware during this century, it became very popular to give a silver sheathing to velvet-lined wooden covers, to which were attached a central rectangular panel and four corners with depictions or symbols of the evangelists. A variety of style is also to be seen in the {hammered} covers made by the mastercraftsmen of Chiprovtsi. In these, the main composition, executed in accordance with the traditional eastern-Christian iconographic schema , is modernised in keeping with the well-known stylised engraved or {fretted} floral decoration of Islamic arabesque type. Generally speaking, the 17th century was a period of aspiration and variation of style for the silversmiths of Chiprovtsi. At this time, while continuing to adhere to traditional responses to the question of what they should depict, particularly in the iconography of the repeated religious subjects - Crucifixion, Anastasis, Annunciation - they almost completely abandoned the old compositional distinctions and turned to approaches of western European silverware, combined with decorative motifs from Islamic art, in a search for solutions as to how they were to be depicted. However, quite independently of the insertion of varied elements from the East and West in the stylistic repertoire of the silversmiths, their covers are subjected to local artistic taste, in which the Byzantine iconographic tradition is predominant; the new elements are confined to details, appropriately included, that give a fresh nuance to the stylistic reconstruction of a continuous tradition.

The rest of the ecclesiastical output of Chiprovtsi was subjected to roughly the same stylistic schema, despite the fact that in some of the stylistic approaches, they penetrate even the most conservative aspect of their artistic structure, and the traditional form of eastern-Christian ritual objects. An interest new element consists of crosses with miniature symbolic architecture in the decoration, which were mainly the work of the silversmiths of Chiprovtsi. These works are a more striking indication of the assimilation of different creative ideas in a new artistic product, unknown in previous periods. We are evidently encountering a new form of post-Byzantine Balkan art, in the content of which may be discerned various artistic trends of the period, unified in an original, independent style. The miniature architecture, whose symbolic content reflects the influence of the monuments of Jerusalem, probably penetrated the products of Balkan silverware as a decorative element, under the influence of Gothic art. During the period when the Gothic style had begun to retreat in western art, the architectural elements of the style successfully penetrated eastern-Christian ecclesiastical architecture, principally in Romania and on Mount Athos; also the various local silver products made for ecclesiastical needs, in which its presence continued to be felt throughout the 17th century. Gothic art can be sensed in the formation of the faces of small bowls and in the frieze on their rims; and together with round domes and octahedral { tambourades } in the spirit of the local Balkan architectural tradition, it remained a feature in the birth of a new style, known as 'Balkan', in the 16th and 17th century. The influence of Gothic art was also responsible for the appearance of the cross with a large, decorated globe, and stylised, heraldically placed lions below the horizontal arm. At the same time, roughly executed relief decoration of broad leaves on the pedestal betrays the major influence exercised on the decoration by western European items of silverware. This influence penetrated the Balkans, sometimes directly though in most cases probably by way of the Romanian principalities. In this skilful combination of different styles, Islamic influence is not absent.

From the middle of the 17th century, Baroque penetrated the crosses that were on top of the thrones created by the Chiprovtsi silversmiths. This western European artistic style, in which the form is sculpturally at its height, and the decoration of is dominated by riotous vegetation and large blossoming flowers predominate, found itself in complete understanding in the Balkans with the Islamic decorative system, was amalgamated with it, and formed an artistic current known as Balkan Baroque. From the end of the 17th century, this style exercised a powerful influence on the art of silverware and continued to do so until the 19th century; it is also generally agreed that its spirit penetrated the innermost areas of the Balkans via Dalmatia, Thessaloniki and Constantinople. The earliest examples of Baroque devices in the silverware of the Balkan interior can be seen in the cups for pants that the motifs on the surface have adopted that style. The penetration of these Baroque influences into the art of the Chiprovtsi silversmiths at almost the same period as the rise of the Baroque style in western art suggests that the new ideas were directly received, probably as a result of direct contacts with Hungary and Italy. This thesis involves the revsion of the view of the main conduits of the stylistic trend under examination; and in the sphere of creativity, a silverware centre as important as Chiprovtsi should not be overlooked.

In the final analysis, we may make the generalisation that in the formation of crosses on top of thrones, the Chiprovtsi silversmiths departed from the dry straightness and severe geometrical form of the Byzantine-Balkan crosses and turned to the considerably more plastic forms of western European models. Penetrating by various routes, these direct or indirect influences met with a good response in the creative art of the mastercraftsmen of Chiprovtsi. These, however, added their own creative devices (the miniature symbolic architecture, for example) and created original crosses which, as a group, are quite removed from western fashion, and can easily be distinguished amongst the numerous products of Balkan silverware at this period by virtue of their characteristic devices. This is also true of the metal ceremonial and pectoral crosses, whose arms end in the form of plastically modelled trefoils - another delayed influence of Gothic art on silverware, which probably came to the workshops of Chiprovtsi via Dubrovnik. Here again the craftsmen of Chiprovtsi made their own mark, through the use of local iconographic manners and the characteristic floral decoration in an oriental style, which do not depart substantially from the style of post-Byzantine Balkan silverware.

It is clear that some Renaissance and Baroque elements from western Europe penetrated the art of the silversmiths of the Chiprovtsi school directly, through contacts between the intelligentsia and the merchant-professional classes of Chiprovtsi and the cultural centres of Italy, the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Romanian principalities. The question of the artistic borrowings from Gothic art is a highly complex one. The Gothic style clearly spread to Balkan silverware as early as the 14th century, and its trends are particularly discernible in the second half of this century. It is probably at this time that many Gothic elements became established in Byzantine-Balkan silverware, but since the Gothic style itself, as an artistic style, was formed under the influence of Byzantine art, it is quite difficult to detect these elements, especially in ecclesiastical objects. We can only suppose that the penetration of architectural details (pointed arches, bowls, stylised fretted friezes and of miniature architecture in general into the ceremonial objects of the Byzantine world took place under the influence of Gothic art. In the Bulgarian territories, however, Gothic art was of secondary importance and was subjected to traditional eastern-Christian artistic beliefs, and remained only in a number of details. This is also suggested by the other products of the Chiprovtsi silversmiths - chests and censers, in which the symbolic miniature architecture is found, after the crosses. In these, too, can be seen elements of Gothic art fretted stylised floral friezes, though as a group, these small-scale architectural models follow the local architectural tradition which, down to the Ottoman invasion, was little influenced by the ideas of Gothic urban design. At the same period (16th-17th century) this kind of product in the Dalmatian centres, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Romanian silverware was produced entirely in the Gothic style, passing through a second phase of the dissemination of Gothic art, now under the influence of the delayed Gothic building in some of the countries of central and eastern Europe. The question arises why the silversmiths of a great school like that of Chiprovtsi, who had the opportunity to follow the artistic currents of their time in western Europe, did not fully respond to this fairly widespread, albeit somewhat delayed. style in the Balkans. The only answer is that at this period, they now had a clearly formulated creative stance, which was based strongly and primarily on the local artistic tradition in silverware, whose ages-old roots were enough to compete successfully with any innovations, whether alien to the local population or otherwise. This position is evident in all their products destined for ecclesiastical use. Importing these elements drawn from differing stylistic directions, they combined them in artistic ensembles that to a large extent approached local traditional pieces, in an attempt not to offend the religious sentiments and ideas of the local population that had become firmly established over the centuries of slavery. In this lies the main creative power of the silversmiths of the Chiprovtsi school, whose output of ecclesiastical items may be examined as a continuation of Balkan silverware of the period before Ottoman rule. Even in the hyper thrones crosses, in which they have recourse to new plastic devices, the soft round domes and in general their overall forms are set firmly within traditional ideas and the demands of eastern-Christian worship.

The silversmiths' approach is even more clearly felt in the gift boxes and reliquaries, manufactured with a remarkably high degree of skill. These traditionally take the form of tiny buildings with tall domes, or authentic models of the churches for which they were destined. And it is precisely in these traditional models of the churches and monasteries held in such profound honour by the local population, together with the traditional iconographic motifs and stylistic manners, that we see again discreet, lacy Gothic friezes, Renaissance depictions and scenes, Baroque flowers and pointed domes, window grills and floral motifs in an oriental style, which merely contribute to the artistic perfection of form without changing the ideological content and traditional harmony. Essentially, this is the basic thread in the artistic-stylistic identity of the silversmiths of the Chiprovtsi school, which was built on a base of highly important, numerous works destined for ecclesiastical use.

The unique sceptre of the silversmiths of Chiprovtsi, which was manufactured in 1612 for Gabriel, the despot of Tirnovo is one of the most representative and expensive products of the school, which probably reflect most sharply the stylistic trends of the period. In its most substantial part, - the crowning end - the craftsmen unreservedly followed the Byzantine tradition in the creation of similar objects in ivory, and undoubtedly also in noble metals, in the stylisation of which are woven influences from early Islamic (Sassanian) and Roman art. Effectively removed in this from the devices of Gothic art, and probably precisely under the influence of the { klonoi }, richly adorned with floral decoration of Gothic episcopal vessels, the Chiprovtsi silversmiths covered the whole of the object with superb repousse and engraved floral fretwork, completely in the spirit of Arab Islamic stylisation. The engraved Chiprovtsi floral decoration, obedient to Christian symbolism, also completely covered the ends. Generally, the stylistic composition in this work is remarkably harmonious in its combinations; while creating a new stylistic symbiosis with regard to traditional thought, it does nothing to change the ideological-conceptual content and purpose. In short, the new phenomena in the art of the mastercraftsmen of Chiprovtsi had a well-considered extension in every direction of the visual repertoire, without this changing the traditional essence of the items produced.

The chalice made at the beginning of the 17th century also differs little from similar traditional vessels of previous periods, and the engraved depictions of saints are combined with a Gothic frieze and Islamic elements, confirming what was said above. In another chalice from the end of the same century, the attempt to give plastic perfection to the traditional form and the crosses led to the continuous adoption of visual and plastic models and ideas from western European silverware. Censers, too, do not depart from the Byzantine tradition, but here again the familiar oriental influences give them the stylistic character of the silversmiths of Chiprovtsi. The flabellum, retaining the characteristic form of the eastern-Christian ceremonial object, with its arabesque between the named eastern-Christian saints and prophets simply confirms the impression that the silverware of the Chiprovtsi school does not 'Islamise' or blindly copy western models. Using individual elements and decorative manners drawn from these arts, it merely supplements and develops, following irreversibly the traditional thread of the local, millennium-old heritage.

The detection of the artistic-stylistic approach of the silversmiths of the school of Chiprovtsi in works produced by them for secular use that were frequently also used in religious ceremonies is a difficult, uncertain matter. Study of the external formal features only of these works (mainly silver chalices and goblets) that were destined for people of the two hostile ethnic-religious groups could be misleading as to their artistic essence. An uninterrupted artistic process may be traced both in pieces designed for ecclesiastical use, in which, in my opinion, the traditional eastern-Christian ideological programme determined the artistic perceptions of form and the new elements and influence in it, and in objects intended for mixed use (it is difficult at this period to establish a rough dividing line between purely secular and purely ecclesiastical luxury vessels). In this process, old and new creative ideas are interwoven, without destroying their local traditional internal substance. Above all, these kinds of silver objects are not unknown to the Byzantine-Balkan silverware of the early period. As early as the 12th century, under the influence of Persia and the central Asian art centres, Byzantine silverware (including the court workshops in Constantinople) produced luxury chalices in whose decorative system is to be found a rich, varied ensemble and oriental floral decoration. Works of this kind, albeit with fresh nuances under the influence of metal-sculpture, continue to be found in the Balkans in the 13th-14th century. The iconic, conceptual system used in the embellishment of these vessels is subordinated to the ideology of what was then a medieval society, bearing within it a fixed conceptual, symbolic and prophylactic purpose. In many of the chalices of Chiprovtsi can be seen the strong influence of Osmanli art (honeycombs with eastern palm-trees), but the artistic approach of the Chiprovtsi silversmiths is subordinated to the demands of eastern-Christian art. On the bottoms of these chalices, alongside depictions of a purely religious character (figures of saints) is to be found a skilfully concealed Christian symbolism. The pointed flowers (with four or six leaves) and possibly the rosettes with floral motifs emerging from them, are stylised renderings of the so-called hollyhock of Jericho - a Christian symbol - which bring to Balkan art the influence of Palestinian monuments and symbolise eternal life and resurrection. This symbol and the symbolism of winding, riotous vegetation give the Islamic decoration of the chalices made by the silversmiths of Chiprovtsi an ideological significance far removed from the abstract, purely decorative Islamic decoration. The multi-leaf rosettes, a variation of the hollyhock of Jericho and symbolise the presence of the Virgin. If we add the plastically modelled figures of deer and birds, that also bear a strikingly evident Christian iconography, we shall be convinced that the majority of the chalices of Chiprovtsi are a direct continuation of those creative ideas that are interwoven in similar products of the period before the Osmanli invasion. The new artistic stimuli from the East and West, which can be clearly observed in these works, simply contribute to the variety of the decoration of the output, without interrupting the thread of their traditional structure or disturbing the place they occupy in Bulgarian and Balkan silver art. They occupy a similar position in the style of the jewellery. Almost every kind of jewellery produced by the Bulgarian silversmiths (especially those of Chiprovtsi) has deep roots in the ages-old traditional decoration of Slav women of past centuries. Some new shapes and ornaments ( koubeli bracelets, large toothed hairpins, solid round ear ornaments, etc) are primarily the result of the internal, deterministic development of jewellery, on which the Islamic culture, with its tendency to ostentation, exercised an influence. The fruit of this influence are the varied jingle chains and pendants, some characteristic types of finger-rings, etc. The western Christian culture also made its mark, with a number of purely Renaissance motifs (Renaissance animal masks on finger-rings); these influences from Eastern and Western European fashion, however, did not give the local jewellery a new essence, but simply enriched its structure and decoration.

This general analysis of the silverware produced by the Chiprovtsi School makes it clear that the artistic-creative approach of the silversmiths involved primarily the retention of everything that had found its way into local artistic silverware in previous periods. To this serious creative base, they added a series of new discoveries of their own period, without changing the ideological, conceptual content and without giving it any particular artistic substance divorced from the other phases of medieval Balkan, and particularly Bulgarian (still unknown) artistic silverware.

The same conclusion is suggested by study of the various techniques used by the Chiprovtsi silversmiths to produce their extensive and highly varied output. As in their artistic-stylistic approach, so in their technical repertoire, they relied on the traditional technical skills of local medieval silver-working.

The silversmiths of Chiprovtsi worked almost exclusively with noble metals, amongst which the most important place was occupied by silver, which they smelted and purified in silver workshops. The metal was derived from quarries, or from old silver artefacts, cut up and smelted in special vessels. A large copper bucket was filled with beech-wood ash, in the middle of which a nest was made and coated with a mixture of ground and sieved powder from well-fired clay vases, beech-wood ash, and water. The pieces of metal were then placed in the nest, with charcoal, which was lit from above or the side with a special tube with a large leather bag. After the silver had melted, small pieces of lead were thrown in, which drew off the various inclusions and formed a coat on the walls of the nest. This coat was then removed, the contents of the bucket were cooled, and the pellet of silver was taken out and cut according to need. Before use, the pieces of silver were melted in small clay vases and the pure, molten metal was poured into moulds. Enamel and coloured stones were also amongst the materials used by the silversmiths of Chiprovtsi. Enamel was a vitreous mass which was cultivated at the base of the copper and ferrous oxide where they also put various supplements. The different shades of blue and green enamel were achieved by colouring it with different quantities of copper and ferrous oxide. The Chiprovtsi silversmiths did not use other colours. Coloured stones were also made of glass paste; blue and green stones were probably produced at Chiprovtsi, though the bulk of them were probably imported from Constantinople or other centres in the West.

To work these basic materials and convert them into silverware products of high artistic value, the craftsmen of Chiprovtsi used all the basic techniques of silver-working known to medieval silversmiths of the previous period, and fully continued the traditions in this direction.

The craftsmen of Chiprovtsi frequently made use of a variety of casts, often details of originals created by hand. The casts were made of silver and alloys of silver and other metals - copper, mercury, lead and tin. They were made in stone moulds, or in moulds made for a single use of pure clay { next }. The original of a detail or an object was made of wax that was purified and cooled, on which all the details were traced with a chisel. This original was cast in a casting box with dilute, well-purified clay. When dealing with a large, three-dimensional object, the mould is made in two parts: after one half has been cast and solidified, its surface is smeared with fat and graphite or some other fine powder, and the second half is cast. When the clay solidifies, the moulds are placed in a kiln and fired. Before casting, the moulds are examined and retouched. After the moulds have been joined together, ventilation holes are pierced in them and the molten lead is poured in. The finished lead model is also examined and retouched, and the required numbers of casts are made from it with casting sand and the metal required.

In this way, the silversmiths of Chiprovtsi cast and disseminated a large number of identical pieces, which are fairly frequently found in various items, and are sometimes a recognisable feature establishing their provenance. When a detail of an object had to be multiplied, it was put in clay moulds rather than the wax model, and the process was repeated in the same way. The idea of creating details or entire compositions from cast elements probably came to the Balkans from Russia.

This complicated technique was used by Byzantine and western European silversmiths in the Middle Ages, and a number of products were also found in Bulgaria. There is no evidence that this technology was used by Bulgarian silversmiths in the 13th-14th century, and, given that it was used to an unprecedented degree in Russian territories in the 16th-17th century, we may conclude that the silversmiths of Chiprovtsi came to know it by way of their contacts with Russia. The quality of the execution was not good (in most cases the amalgam is fragile and friable), indicating that this technology did not have particularly deep roots in the art of the Chiprovtsi craftsmen, and was not widespread. Formulae for black niello were used, which contained a greater proportion of sulphur.

Chiselling and engraving
These two techniques are occasionally confused, on account of the similarity of the ways in which they were executed. Chiselling includes all actions related to the forming of the cast relief - from the engraving of details to the formation of the relief, smoothing, etc. Engraving is an artistic method by which a flat tracing is executed on the metal. To execute it, great knowledge of the technique of tracing is required, as well as knowledge of the laws of perspective, etc. Initially, the silversmiths of Chiprovtsi engraved only floral decoration, embellishing the field around it with dots. During the second half of the 17th century, possibly under the influences of paper prints, they began to make very sophisticated tracings. Their attempts at special chiaroscuro and their achievement of plasticity in their tracings are evidence for the high level of the art of the Chiprovtsi silversmiths in this direction, though I have not been able to detect this in the other Bulgarian centres of the silversmith's art.


One of the most expensive and representative but at the same time the most difficult, techniques. The technique known as cloisonne enamel was widely used in Byzantine silverware, and in the 11th-12th century, works produced by this technique attained the level of important, brilliant art. At the same time, the technique known as { champleve } enamel was very popular in the west, especially in the 11th-14th century, when the great enamel centres developed in Limoges , Sienna, Venice, Cologne and Hildesheim. In the Balkans, these two artistic techniques are encountered about the middle of the 13th century, and began to be applied at the same time in the same products, forming a characteristic hallmark of the silverware of this period. After a brief period of tranquillity as a result of the Ottoman invasion in the 16th century, the production of enamel objects began, first in the south Greece centres and then in the other, larger Balkan centres. These objects resemble the old Byzantine cloisonne enamel, though now simplified and less demanding. Gradually, the flat partitions gave way to gilded twisted wire, and in 17th-century Balkan silverware, this latter is the only form of enamel found. It is known as filigree enamel and had a purely decorative function. In the last third of the 16th century, enamel, though only in the form of { champleve } enamel, began to be used in the Chiprovtsi silver workshops, used in these early works (plaques on the bottoms of some goblets and engraved decoration on finger-rings) as a filling for the background or to emphasise the decoration. This technique of the mastercraftsmen of Chiprovtsi does not appear to have had deep roots in the local silverware of the previous period, and only gradually opened up a road under the influence of western European Gothic examples that were fairly widely disseminated in this region. (It is not impossible that the local silverware, which was quite advanced, had taken the first steps in this direction at the end of the 16th century.) Chiprovtsi very rapidly (as early as the second quarter of the 17th century) beame one of the largest centres decorating products with filigree eneamel (crosses, boxes) and { champleve } enamel (various bracelets), meeting the demand of the whole of the Balkan interior. From a technical point of view, the craftsmen of Chiprovtsi used only blue and green enamel, which did not fill the cells to the top, and is distinguished by great expressivity and brilliance of construction. As a type, the enamels of Chiprovtsi belong to the translucent enamels of the highest quality, and have nothing in common with the enamel-like gyalada of the silversmiths of Bratsa. The tracing of the decoration was done in the same way as with filigree. After the cells (particularly of the background) had been welded on, they were filled with ground enamel powder and the appropriate oxides, mixed with water. The object was then heated to a predetermined temperature and in a similar manner, in which the skill of this technique resides. The silversmiths of Chiprovtsi did not polish their enamels.

In blow-torch welding the flame was directed on to the part to be welded. The formula of the weld used was usually kept secret and was handed down from generation to generation, and it is therefore difficult to establish the ingredients. The Balkan silversmiths, including those of Chiprovtsi, worked with silver weld of the highest quality, whose purity depended on the skill of the silversmith. The weld consisted of three parts silver and one part copper or arsenic,, which melted under the continuous addition of salt. The prepared mixture was poured into mould and then ground into a fine powder. Before use, it was mixed with borax, that had been melted and ground into a powder. The cleaned part of the object was then coated with this powder and heated with a blow-torch.

Setting of coloured stones
This technique, which was used in Byzantine silverware of all periods and became a characteristic feature of Roman art in the West, was also used by the silversmiths of Chiprovtsi. Coloured stones manufactured and purchased locally were placed and hammered into small settings of filigree, mainly in ecclesiastical vessels and jewellery, where they harmonised pleasantly with enamel and gilded ornamentation.

The conclusion may certainly be drawn that, as in the sphere of their stylistic trends, so in their technical skills, the silversmiths of Chiprovtsi followed the practices known in previous periods. Their technical armoury did not include the true oriental technologies involving setting metal in metal, deep engraved decoration filled with a variety of coloured pastes or tar, or adding mother-of-pearl decoration. This, however, was not the result of a confining conservatism but was a conscious creative approach that was open to the discoveries of the art of Christian peoples. The traditional technical armoury was enriched with methods drawn from western European silver-working and the expertise of the Russian silversmiths, but admitted virtually nothing of the applied art of the non-Christian conquerors, despite the high level of their skill. This purely artistic, stylistic and technical approach is also one of the characteristic features of the Chiprovtsi school that distinguished it from the other Balkan centres. The products of this school, examined through the elements set out here reveal their stylistic and technical unity, in which were retained the profound ideas and skills of the local folk tradition, enriched with the ideas of the neighbouring free Christian peoples. This makes it possible to distinguish works produced by the Balkan silverware centres. And this is also a sure sign of the existence of an artistic school.

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