“Repoussé” is a French adjective meaning “pushed up,” derived from the Latin “pulsare,” which means “to push.” In metalwork, it refers to the process of hammering a malleable metal from the reverse side, creating a low relief design on the front.
After “Repoussage” (the noun form of repoussé) has been achieved, the design on the front usually requires a bit of “chasing” to refine (or clean-up) the handwork. The word “chasing,” also derives from the French, in this case, “chasser,” meaning “to drive out.” In metalwork, chasing refers to the process of hammering the front side, usually creating little furrows or grooves which clarify or accentuate the intended design.
Repoussé work and chasing have been performed since Egyptian antiquity. One of the most famous pieces of early repoussé work (and certainly not the oldest) is the burial mask of the boy-pharoah, Tutankhamun (1300’s BC) crafted from what appears to be a single sheet of gold.
The English Arts & Crafts pipe rack, shown above, displays beautiful and delicate repoussé work—obviously the work of a talented craftsman. Look carefully and find the pair of whistling birds perched upon the scrolling branches.
Click on the photo to learn more about the pipe rack.
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