Cloisonné enamel art is being revived in Georgia

Georgian jewelry artists in the capital Tbilisi are reviving an ancient technique of cloisonné enamel art called minankari.

The art form, which was abandoned at the end of the 15th century, has in the last two decades seen a gradual comeback as local artists once again create works through the opulent art form.

Today it is a growing artistic movement in the country. Cloisonné enamel unites European, Georgian, and East Asian design influences.

Thea Gurgenidze has gained fame in Georgia for her work as a minankari artist. She says the artistic process has seen little change over time.

“Today our methods of creation are almost exactly the same as they were between the 8th and 15th centuries,” Gurgenidze told Reuters Television.

“The technique has been simplified, but of course, it is still hand-made. We are using modern tools, for example instead of the old technique of polishing with stone we use sandpaper.”

Gurgenidze, alongside other prominent Georgian craftsmen, works at a studio in an enamel gallery called Ornament.

The gallery also houses a school, which passes on the intricate trade to students from all over the world.

Vibrant colors of jewels, icons, or paintings are all made by inlaying enamel onto copper, silver, or gold. The thin glassy coating is obtained by melting the glass powders of various metals with impurities which give different colors to the pieces. Some of the pieces are exact copies of ancient designs, says Gurgenidze.

“This is called ‘kvevri’,” said Gurgenidze, holding up a traditional wine jar. “It is one of the more complex designs. A week of learning is not enough to create such a piece. It could take months to learn the processes. Its shape is what makes it more difficult to make because it has several parts.”

Minankari has high artistic value and Georgian cloisonné is particularly recognized in the art form.
Although some of the best samples of minankari are housed inside Russia’s Hermitage, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and amid private collections, several shops in Tbilisi sell affordable, handmade jewelry made by local craftsmen, which are very popular amongst tourists.