First invented in the Near East and by the Byzantine Empire, cloisonne developed as a way of decorating jewelry. Ancient Egyptians were also one of the first to use the technique for their own pharaohs’ adornments.

By the 14th century the technique of cloisonne had spread to China, and subsequently Japan, where the technique was greatly revered as a way of adding color to the dishes, sculptures and other items they were already creating out of metal. By laying out thin strips of metal then filling the gaps with enamel and firing, they could create works of art as never before. The filler could contain powdered semi-precious and precious minerals and gold flakes adding to its value.

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This perhaps was one of the very first attempts at Chinese cloisonne centuries ago- it is a ding vessel with a chrysanthemum flower.

Cloisonné was called Jingtailan (景泰蓝) in China after the name of the Jingtai Emperor. Enamel is called tangci (搪瓷). The earliest known Ming era example of cloisonné was produced sometime around the year 1430. But it isn’t known when the craft was first practiced. Cao Zhao described cloisonné in his book, Ge Gu Yao Lun (“Essential Criteria of Antiquities”), the first connoisseurs book on antiques. He called it “Dashi” or “Muslim” ware.

The Chinese pioneered using porcelain as a substrate, white and translucently glasslike, they created highly valued and characteristically Chinese blue and white cloisonne starting in the Ming era.

Antique white cloisonne Vase with lotus, bat and phoenix

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Though the sellers sometimes give different sizes for the items, this may be because of measuring error or because they converted from metric, as the items look exactly the same in photos.

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The vessel above is is a good example of one of the emperors who had fine tastes in antiques himself, and commissioned a number of items styled after far earlier Chinese art.

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“17 Royal Palace 100% Bronze 24K Gold Cloisonne Wheel Phoenix Zun Pot Vase Statue” shown above. Bird or phoenix cups have been used since time immemorial in China as ritual objects, and funerary items. They really out did themselves in this rendition, with the bird being placed upon wheels like a fierce chariot or cannon, ready for action. Way over the top, which may be part of the reason it is being sold here without provenance, to try to dampen some of that old glory and splendor of the emperor still. Though these items may seem relatively expensive, they should be priced reasonably in the millions of dollars, not hundreds or thousands- if sold at all.

Chinese Cloisonne Guardian Dogs

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Chances are that the golden fu dogs above served as the Emperor’s personal body guards for many years. Their estimated value being such is absolutely priceless, but good luck in getting any information out of the sellers regarding their specific origin.  Yellow was the Emperor’s color.

Yellow Cloisonne Deer

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These works of cloisonne were truly arduous to make, and it is thought because of the size and fine quality, they may have belonged to the emperors and imperial court of China. In Japan there is a long tradition of the royalty coveting pieces of cloisonne as well as personally commissioning their manufacture, and the same is true in China. A great video on cloisonne in Japan and the skills it took to make:


“Fine cloisonné wares were also fashioned in the Qing Empire (1664-1911). Collectors and experts generally say the quality was less than the products from the Ming era. Gold objects decorated with cloisonné artwork were highly valued by the Qing court.”

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By the beginning of the 18th century the Kangxi Emperor had a cloisonné workshop among the many Imperial factories. The most elaborate and highly valued Chinese pieces are from the early Ming Dynasty, especially the reigns of the Xuande Emperor and Jingtai Emperor (1450–57), although 19th century or modern pieces are far more common. The Chinese industry seems to have benefited from a number of skilled Byzantine refugees fleeing the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, although based on the name alone, it is far more likely China obtained knowledge of the technique from the middle east. In much Chinese cloisonné blue is usually the predominant colour, and the Chinese name for the technique, jingtailan (“Jingtai blue ware”), refers to this, and the Jingtai Emperor. Quality began to decline in the 19th century. Initially heavy bronze or brass bodies were used, and the wires soldered, but later much lighter copper vessels were used, and the wire glued on before firing. The enamels compositions and the pigments change with time.” – from Wikipedia

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Insanely, the item above is still an incense burner. The figure of the man holding the burner is a very, very old design that goes back the the days of the Shang Dynasty and Sanxingdui more than 3,000 years ago, though the item itself is only a few hundred years old.

Chinese Emperor's 24k Gold Cloisonne Dragon Boat

The seller’s even state this dragon boat is “Royal Palace Cloisonne” and “24K gold”. It also appears to be the exact same seller selling all of these (or just one of them?) since the photos are the same for two of the listings, and on the other one it is the exact same room and table, but with a grey sheet they’ve placed behind the item.

The largest cloisonne manufacturer in Beijing is still located a just kilometer away from the Temple of Heaven (and was the former emperor’s imperial cloisonne factory?). It is currently called the Beijing Enamel Factory, 10 Anlelin Road, Yongdingmenwai Beijing.

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This seal has the emperor’s yellow dragon with five toes on it, and was probably a seal used during the Qing Dynasty by the very last of the emperors.

Another official seal with Manchu- one of the official languages of the Qing Dynasty that is now almost extinct to the right of the Chinese script. There were many, many imperial decrees given out, and each needed to be authenticated by official stamps. Because of the Chinese skill in calligraphy and copying others, using a written signature as we do in the west would have been too easy to forge.

One of these official seals could have been used on this portrait of the Emperor and his favorite concubines:

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Or would have been used to officiate imperial edicts and make them into law:

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These edicts would have been issued in the Qing Dynasty, and many have the Manchu language on the left side as well as Chinese script. This language, though on of the 16 official languages then, is almost extinct today with only 4 known fluent speakers. This paper- golden with golden dragons would have only been used by the Emperor, and made specifically to deter forgery.

 

 

 

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