Introduction of Cloisonne Art

Published: 18th November 2009
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[About Cloisonne]

Cloisonne, also called 'Jingtai Blue' because the color blue is the most frequently used color for enameling. It is one of the most famous arts and crafts in Beijing during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368). Cloisonne is the technique of creating designs on metal vessels with colored-glass paste placed within enclosures made of copper or bronze wires, which have been bent or hammered into the desired pattern. Known as cloisons (French for "partitions"), the enclosures generally are either pasted or soldered onto the metal body. The glass paste, or enamel, is colored with metallic oxide and painted into the contained areas of the design. The vessel is usually fired at a relatively low temperature, about 800°C. Enamels commonly shrink after firing, and the process is repeated several times to fill in the designs. Once this process is complete, the surface of the vessel is rubbed until the edges of the cloisons are visible. They are then gilded, often on the edges, in the interior, and on the base.

[History of Cloisonne]

Beijing is the cradle of cloisonne technique. The earliest and existing cloisonne is the product in Yuan Dynasty, which we know it has nearly thousands-year history already. The original cloisonne were most of the archaized bronze ware, especially produced during the Xuande period of Ming dynasty is fine.

During the course of Jingtai period of Ming that is between 1450 and 1456 craftsmen found a blue glaze in navy-blue color which is elegant and decent of the artworks. That is the cloisonne we are using now. From then on, it seemed no any great breakthrough instead of the rapid development of using the coppery material, which used a pure coppery with better extension. Thus, the cloisonne technique arrived the crest.

Foreign influence also contributed to the development of cloisonne during the early fourteenth to fifteenth century in China. The earliest securely dated Chinese Cloisonne is from the reign of the Ming Xuande emperor (1426–35). However, cloisonné is recorded during the previous Yuan dynasty, and it has been suggested that the technique was introduced to China at that time via the western province of Yunnan, which, under Mongol rule, received an influx of Islamic people. A very few cloisonne objects have been dated on stylistic grounds to the Yongle reign (1403–24) of the early Ming dynasty.

[Use of Cloisonne]

Cloisonne Wares were intended primarily for the furnishing of temples and palaces, because their flamboyant splendor was considered appropriate to the function of these structures but not well suited to a more restrained atmosphere, such as that of a scholar's home. This opinion was expressed by Cao Zhao (or Cao Mingzhong) in 1388 in his influential Gegu Yaolun (Guide to the Study of Antiquities), in which cloisonné was dismissed as being suitable only for lady's chambers. However, by the period of Emperor Xuande, this ware came to be greatly prized at court.

As traditional Chinese art, Cloisonne Wares have renewed a brilliant luster. Chinese Cloisonne Wares are popular both at home and abroad. In addition to the usual Cloisonne Vases, Cloisonne Paintings are also world-renowned and well received. Cloisonne painting adopts court colored drawing, and contains ornamental, art and collected value and can be widely used as a luxurious decoration for house, hotel, meeting room, market, and dancing hall. Cloisonne Paintings are also very popular presents for friends.

[How to Make Cloisonne]

Below is the process to make cloisonne. The whole process needs 7 steps: Body Making, Copper wire cutting, copper wire Inlay, Enamel Filling, Enamel Firing, Polishing and Gilding. Every step has to be perfect especially the enamel firing; if one fails, the entire work has been done in vain.

1. Body Making: Copper is the materials used for making the body. Because copper is very flexible and can be easily hammered to the shape of the products, like the vases, jars, bowls, plates, ashtrays etc.

2. Copper wire Cutting: Long copper-wire with several layers struck tighter formed special copper filigree for one of the process of making Cloisonne. According to the drawing, the craftsmen cut the copper wire and twist it into different shapes. So the flat copper wire is then fixed in certain patterns.

3. Copper wire Inlay: The craftsmen solder the patterned copper wire onto the body with special glue as to make up a complicated but beautiful complete pattern on the body.

4. Enamel Filling: In this workshop you can see some plates containing different colored materials placed in front of the workers. The colored materials or enamel is a kind of mineral with rich colors. It is ground in to tiny powder mixed in water and contained in different plates. The workers put the different tinny powder of various colors into the little compartments separated by the copper wires. By doing this, you can see a formed colorful pattern on the copper body with enamel fillings.

5. Enamel Firing: The copper body with enamel fillings will be put into the oven where the temperature is about 900C (1650F). After firing, the colored enamel in the little compartments will sink down a bit. That requires a repeated filling for several times (at least three times) until the little compartments are finally filled up.

6. Polishing: There are three steps to polish the unfinished products. The first step is done by machine polishing so as to make the copper wire and the fillings in the little compartments even. And then again the products are put to fire. After that the products need to be polished once more with a whetstone. At last a piece of hard carbon is used to polish the product again to make the product luster and smoothness on the surface.

7. Gilding: The last process is done by placing the product in fluid of gold or silver, charged with electric current. The exposed parts of the copper wire and the metal fringes on the product will be smoothly and evenly gilded so that the metal part of the product will not get rusty. Finally, the product will again undergo another electroplating and then a slight polishing will be the final touch to the product. The finished product is done!




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