Catherine PAGANI

Detail of cloisonné beads. The cloisonné technique involves placing enamel paste into cells (French cloisons) that are formed from slender metal wires soldered onto a metal foundation. The wires become part of the overall design of when the piece is fired at a temperature high enough to fuse the paste without destroying the metal. PHOTO BY ANNA MYERS.

Cloisonné, also known as inlaid enamel, is a decorative art form brought to China from the West around the fourteenth century. Pulverized enamel or glass is fused onto a metal surface; soldered wires separate the different colors or elements of the design to become part of the design itself. The technique reached its height during the early Ming dynasty.

Cloisonné is a technique employed in the decorative arts in which pulverized multicolored enamel or glass is fused onto a metal surface; the enamel is held in wire cells (from the French cloisons). The technique came to China from the West during the fourteenth century (or earlier) and reached its pinnacle during the early Ming ? dynasty (1368–1644) under the rule of the Jingtai emperor (1428–1457). In fact, one of the terms by which cloisonné is known in China is Jingtai lan. Other terms for cloisonné tell of the technique’s foreign origins: A text from the Ming dynasty states that cloisonné came to China from Da Shi (Arabia) and Folang (Byzantium), thus yielding the terms dashi yao, Arabian ware, and falan or falang, likely a corruption of the Chinese term for Byzantium.

Cloisonné enameling uses cells formed from slender metal wires to hold the enamel paste in place. These wires become part of the overall design of the piece and are soldered onto a metal foundation. After the enamel paste is added to the cells the piece is fired at a temperature high enough to fuse the paste without destroying the metal cells or the metal foundation. Pieces often need to be fired a second time to correct any flaws in the enamel and to fill up the cells. The piece is then polished with a pumice stone to smooth the surface and heighten its luster.

The earliest cloisonné pieces carrying a reign mark date from the reign of the Xuande emperor (1399–1435). The usual colors of these early pieces are a distinctive turquoise blue, deep brown-red, lapis lazuli blue, yellow, green, black, and white. (A true pink was not seen until the famille rose palette was developed for porcelains in the early eighteenth century.) The pieces are strikingly simple in both decoration and shape. One characteristic of Ming cloisonné is the presence in the enamels of the solder used to hold the metal wires to the base. This flaw was remedied during the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century by the use of vegetable glues, which burned away in the heat of the firing.

During the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) production of cloisonné wares increased because of the establishment of imperial palace workshops under the Kangxi emperor (1654–1722) in 1680. The aesthetic quality of pieces during this time is said to have suffered in the quest for technical perfection. This was especially true during the reign of the Qianlong emperor (1711–1799), when the wires were gilded, frequent firings dulled the finish, and designs were busy and complex.

Today cloisonné continues to be produced using the same methods as in the past, with most of the work being done by hand. But despite the technical achievements of the past several centuries, fifteenth-century pieces remain the apex of the art.

Further Reading

Brinker, H., & Lutz, A. (1989). Chinese cloisonné: The Pierre Uldry collection. New York: Asia Society Galleries.

Garner, H. M. (1962). Chinese and Japanese cloisonné enamels. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle.

Jenyns, R. S. (1980). Cloisonné and champlevé enamels on copper. In R. S. Jenyns & W. Watson (Eds.), Chinese art II (pp. 105–142). New York: Rizzoli.

Source: Pagani, Catherine. (2009). Cloisonné. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 435–436. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

This beaded necklace has a decorative cloisonné floral design. The cloisonné technique, popularly used in jewelry, came to China from the West in the fourteenth century, or perhaps even earlier, and reached it’s artistic peak during the Ming dynasty. PHOTO BY ANNA MYERS.

Cloisonné (J?ngtàilán ?? ?)|J?ngtàilán ?? ? (Cloisonné)

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