Silver: Repousse Decoration Defined
Repousse or repoussage (the noun) is a technique used in metal work to decorate the surface of an object. The word repousse originates from the French verb repousser, which means to push back or away. Metals such as copper, gold, silver, and brass are well suited to repousse decoration because of their malleable properties. In other words, they can be re-worked without a loss of original material.
The technique involves the use of hammers, punches and other small tools on the back or reverse of an object to create a design in relief on the front or obverse of an object. Using this technique, a silversmith can produce exquisitely detailed flowers, scrolling, and foliate designs on silver hollow ware and flatware.
Repousse is usually used in conjunction with chasing, which is a similar technique used on the front or top surface of the metal. An example of repousse and chased decoration would be a grape vine where repousse is used to create the grapes appearing in bas-relief on the surface of the object and the leaves are chased and appear as a depression in the metal.
The technique was first applied to silver flatware and hollow ware in the second quarter of the 19th century by the silversmith Samuel Kirk in Baltimore, MD. Although similar in technique, repousse decoration is more ornate in design and should not to be confused with hand-hammered copper from the Arts and Crafts Period or hand hammered aluminum ware dating from the 1930s to 1950s.
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