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(nēĕl`ō) [Ital. from Latin nigellus=blackish], black metallic alloy of sulfur, copper, silver, and usually lead, used as an inlay on engraved metal. The metal surface is brushed with a borax solution as a flux, dusted with powdered niello, then heated. After cooling, the surface is scraped and shows a black pattern in the incised lines. Pulling a paper proof of the design in order to make corrections before inlaying is said to have been the start of printing from an engraved plate. The Egyptians are credited with originating niello decoration, which was practiced in classical times, spread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, and came into high repute in the 15th cent. with the work of the Florentine goldsmith FiniguerraFiniguerra, Maso or Tommaso
, 1426–64, Florentine goldsmith and engraver during the Renaissance. In the 1450s he joined with Antonio Pollaiuolo.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an alloy of silver, lead, sulfur, and other elements used to decorate metal articles, mainly of silver. The alloy, in powder form, is placed on the engraved surface of the metal; the object is fired, and then a black or dark gray pattern, firmly fixed to the base, appears on the object.

Niello on silver and other metals was used in antiquity. Thematic, landscape, and purely ornamental pictures were executed in niello on separate plates in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries. Niello was used in Western Europe, India, and the Baltic region to decorate everyday objects (dishes, cutlery, boxes), weapons, and jewelry. Ornamental niello tracery was commonly used to decorate silver in the countries of the Middle East and the Caucasus. Russian craftsmen of the tenth to 13th centuries decorated silver pendants, bracelets, and lunulae with niello. The art was widely used by Russian craftsmen of the 15th and 16th centuries; niello was particularly popular in the 18th century in Velikii Ustiug (seeVELIKII USTIUG NIELLO WORK IN SILVER). Niello is currently widely used in Kubachi for artistic metalworking.


Russkii khudozhestvennyi metall. Moscow, 1958.
Postnikova-Loseva, M. M., N. G. Platonova, and B. L. Ul’ianova. Russkoe chernevoe iskusstvo. Moscow, 1972.
Rosenberg, M. Geschichte der Goldschmiedekunst auf technischer Grundlage. Abteilung: Niello. Darmstadt, 1907.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Mixture of sulfides of copper, silver, and lead, with black metallic appearance; used in ornamental inlays engraved on metals such as silver.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.