niellist, n.
/nee el"oh/, n., pl. nielli /-el"ee/, v., nielloed, nielloing.
1. a black metallic substance, consisting of silver, copper, lead, and sulfur, with which an incised design or ground is filled to produce an ornamental effect on metal.
2. ornamental work so produced.
3. a specimen of such work.
4. a print on paper made from an incised metal plate before the application of niello and associated esp. with 15th-century Italy.
5. to decorate by means of niello; treat with niello or by the niello process.
[1810-20; < It < L nigellus blackish, dim. of niger black]

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Black metallic alloy of sulfur with silver, copper, or lead, used to fill designs that have been engraved on the surface of a metal object, usually of silver.

The black sulfides are powdered, and after the engraved silver has been moistened, the powder is spread on it. When the metal is heated, the niello melts and runs into the engraved channels. After the excess niello is scraped away, the surface is polished. The contrast of the black niello against the bright surface produces an attractive decorative effect. During the height of its popularity in the Renaissance, the technique was widely used for embellishing liturgical as well as utilitarian objects. Nielli (objects decorated with niello) were produced in ancient Rome and 9th-century England. In Russia niello work is known as Tula work.

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 black metallic alloy of sulfur with silver, copper, or lead that is used to fill designs that have been engraved on the surface of a metal (usually silver) object. Niello is made by fusing together silver, copper, and lead and then mixing the molten alloy with sulfur. The resulting black-coloured sulfides are powdered, and after the engraved metal, usually silver, has been moistened with a flux, some of the powder is spread on it and the metal strongly heated; the niello melts and runs into the engraved channels. The excess niello is then removed by scraping until the filled channels are clearly visible, and finally the surface is polished. The contrast of the black niello against the bright silver surface produces an attractive decorative effect.

      Objects decorated with niello, called nielli, are usually small in scale. During the Renaissance, at the height of its popularity, the technique was widely used for the embellishment of liturgical objects and for the decoration of such utilitarian objects as cups, boxes, knife handles, and belt buckles. Before filling in the incised design with niello, Renaissance metalsmiths commonly made a record of the design by making a sulfur cast of the engraved metal plate or by taking its impression on paper.

      Nielli were produced by the ancient Romans, and the ring of King Aethelwulf (839–858) in the British Museum demonstrates that the technique was well established in England at an early date. The art of niello reached its peak in 15th-century Italy in the workshop of the Florentine goldsmith Maso Finiguerra (Finiguerra, Maso). Russian goldsmiths working in Tula in the late 18th century revived the craft, and niello work came to be known in Russia as Tula work. Fine quality niello is still being produced in India and the Balkans.

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Universalium. 2010.

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