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A black metallic alloy of sulfur with copper, silver or lead used to produce dark inlay designs on the surface of gold or silver. Niello is prepared by mixing a molten metal (silver, copper or lead) with powdered sulfur. The fused compound is cooled, ground to a fine powder, then mixed with water and a flux (ammonium chloride or borax) to form a paste. An incised pattern in either a gold or silver object is filled with the paste then the object is heated to produce an enamel-like black metal in the incised lines. Niello was used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Persian and is still widely practiced in the Far East (Untracht 1968).

Synonyms and Related Terms

niger black; nigellum; krueng tome; nielle (Fr.); Niello (Deut.); niello (Ned.)

Additional Information

° W.A.Oddy, M.Bimson, S.La Niece, "The Composition of Niello Decoration on Gold, Silver and Bronze in the Antique and Mediaeval Periods" Studies in Conservation, 28: 29-35, 1983. ° O. Untracht, Metal Techniques for Craftsmen, Doubleday and Co., Garden City, NY, 1968.

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