Home>>>Chinese culture>>>>Chinese Craft

Cloisonne - The Art of Decorative Enameling

Cloisonne is a unique art form that originated in Beijing during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368). In the period titled 'Jingtai' during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), the emperor who was very much interested in bronze-casting techniques, improved the color process, and created the bright blue that appealed to the Oriental aesthetic sense. After a processing breakthrough, most articles for his daily use were made of cloisonne; in time cloisonne became popular among the common people; their favorite called 'Jingtai Blue'.

During the reigns of Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), cloisonne improved and reached its artistic summit. Colors were more delicate, filigrees more flexible and fluent, and scope was enlarged beyond the sacrifice-process wares into snuff bottles, folding screens, incense burners, tables, chairs, chopsticks, and bowls.

Cloisonne is one of the famous arts and crafts of Beijing.The making of cloisonne requires rather elaborate and complicated processes; base-hammering, copper-strip inlay, soldering, enamel-filling, enamel-firing, polishing and gilding. The products are featured by excellent quality. The skill and workmanship have been handed down from the Ming Dynasty. Quite a number of new varieties have been created. it enjoys a high reputation both at home and abroad. They are mostly for export.

Cloisonne manufacture is comprehensive and sophisticated, combining the techniques of making bronze and porcelain ware, as well as those of traditional painting and sculpture:

The first step is body making. The material used for making the bodyis copper, because copper is easily hammered and stretched. This step requires a sound judgement in shaping and uniformity of thickness and weight. It is in fact the work of the copper smith. The only difference is that when an article is well shaped, the copper smith’s work is finished, whereas the cloisonne craftsman’s work is just on the the start.

The second step is filigree soldering. This step requires great care and high creativeness. The artisan adheres copper strips onto the body. These strips are of 1/16 inch in diameter and of lengths as the artisan desires. The strips or filigree thus adhered make up a complicated but complete pattern. The artisan has a blueprint in mind and he can make full use of his experience, imagination and aesthetic view in setting the copper strips on the body.

The third step is to apply the colour which is known as enamel filling. The colour or enamel is like the glaze on ceramics. It is called falang. Its basic elements are boric acid, saltpetre and alkaline. Due to the difference in the minerals added, the colour differs accordingly. Usually one with much iron will turn grey, with uranium, yellow, with chromium, green, with zinc, white, with bronze, blue, with gold or iodine, red. In time of filling, all the colours, ground beforehand into minute powder and contained in plates, are placed in front of the workers and are then applied to the little compartments separated by filigree.

The fourth step is enamel firing. This is done by putting the article, with its enamel fillings, to the crucible. After a short moment, the copper body will turn red. But after firing, the enamel in the little compartment will sink down a bit. That will require a refilling. This process will go on repeatedly until the little compartments are finally filled.

The fifth step is polishing. The first polish is with energy. Its aim is to make the filigree and the filled compartments even. The whole piece is again put to fire. Polish once more with a whet stone. Finally, use a piece of hard carbon to polish again so as to obtain some lustre on the surface of the article.

The sixth step is gilding. This is done by placing the article in fluid of gold or silver. Add electric current. The exposed parts of the filigree and the metal fringes of the article will be smoothly and evenly gilded. After that, the metal part of the article will not get rusty. Then the article will again undergo another electroplating and a slight polish.

An exquisite piece of cloisonné must have colors that are moist and glossy, fresh and bright, a body that is substantive and sturdy, a wire inlay that is neat and well-proportioned, and gold plating that glitters. Its delicate appearance and splendid patterns should emit a classical warmth that rivets the gaze, and leaves one too infatuated to part with it.

Today cloisonne technique is associated with the sculpture of wood, jade, ivory and lacquer. Cloisonne art is exported to many countries as a favorite medium for ornaments.

In Beijing, most shops in hotels as well as tourist stores sell Cloisonnearticles, which can be as big as sacrificial utensils, screens tables and chairs, and as small as chopsticks, earrings, candy boxes, toothpicks and smoking tools. They are works of art as well as articles with use value. Handicraftsmen have of late developed a multi-coloring technique for the making of Cloisonne which has resulted in more refined and gorgeous products


Related Links: