A lithophane (French: lithophanie) is an etched or molded artwork in very thin translucent porcelain that can only be seen clearly when back lit with a light source.It is a design or scene in intaglio that appears “en grisaille” (in gray) tones.

A lithophane presents a three-dimensional image – completely different from two-dimensional engravings and daguerreotypes that are “flat, The images change characteristics depending on the light source behind them. Window lithophane panel scenes change throughout the day depending on the amount of sunlight. The varying lightsource is what makes lithophanes more interesting to the viewer than two-dimensional pictures.

The word “lithophane” derives from Greek “litho”, which is from “lithos” which means stone or rock, and “phainein” meaning “to cause to appear” or “to cause to appear suddenly. From this is derived a meaning for lithophane of “light in stone” or to “appear in stone” as the three-dimensional image appears suddenly when lit with a back light source.

European lithophanes were first produced nearly at the same time in France, Germany, Prussia, and England around the later part of the 1820s. Many times historians credit Baron Paul de Bourging (1791–1864) with inventing the process “email ombrant” (pottery decorating) of lithophanes in 1827 in France. Robert Griffith Jones acquired Bourging’s rights in 1828 and licensed out to English factories to make them. The English factories sometimes used the name “lithophane” for specimens of ordinary “email ombrant. Some say however it was Georg Friedrich Christoph (1781–1848) of Prussia that actually perfected the true lithophane process in 1828. Others say the technique was developed in Berlin and other parts of Germany by such manufacturers as Königlichen Porzellan-Manufaktur and Porzellanmanufactur. This is why sometimes lithophanes are referred to as “Berlin transparency. There is a well known mark of Ad’T’ on lithophanes from Rubles, near Melun in France. It is thought to be the mark of Baron A. de Tremblay, however some scholars on the subject think he only made earthenware and not true lithophanes and the mark belongs to a yet unknown source.

Close Menu