National Palace Museum – Garland of Treasures 集瓊藻 #4 – Cloisonné 琺瑯器

These antiques looked out of place in a Chinese museum, you always associate cloisonné with the French because of the name. But cloisonné has been part of Chinese handicraft for at least 600 years. But this is one thing the Chinese cannot claim to have invented.

Cloisonné 琺瑯器 in China

Cloisonné, an ancient metalworking technique, is a multi-step enamel process used to produce jewellery, vases, and other decorative items. Objects produced by this process are also called cloisonné. Cloisonné first developed in the Near East, spread to the Byzantine Empire, and from there along the Silk Road to China, Korea and Japan. The technique was also highly developed in Europe. Chinese cloisonné is probably the most well known and ubiquitous. Here’s a video on how it is made today.

The earliest securely dated Chinese cloisonné dates from the reign of the Ming Xuande emperor (1426–35). However, cloisonné is recorded during the previous (Yuan) dynasty (1271–1368), 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.

Ming Dynasty Cloisonné 明代琺瑯器

In ancient times, cloisonné was made in China only for the royal family’s use. “Jingtai Blue” (景泰蓝) is a style that has come to typify Chinese cloisonné. Blue was the predominant color of enamel used in this type of cloisonné, and Jingtai specially refers to the Jingtai period in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when it reached its peak.

景泰 銅琺瑯三足小水盆  Copper vessel with three feet and cloisonné enamel decor, Jingtai reign

The copper vessel with three feet and cloisonné enamel decor is divided into three parts, namely the cover and the barrel-shaped air vent and the main body. The three parts can be combined into a furnace. The cover is carved with strange animals squatting as buttons. The upper and lower parts of the cover are decorated with filigree blue flowers, and the central part is carved with moiré. The barrel-shaped air vent has a rectangular opening, the inside is carved with a carnivorous dragon, and the outside is embedded with filigree. The body is round and folded to form a six-petal flower shape, with double ears, three animal feet, and the outer wall of the filigree lotus. The size of the vessel suggests that it was used in a study to hold the water used for diluting ink, and the heating element was for winter to prevent the water from freezing over. The vessel has been marked with “Made during Jingtai reign” seal at the bottom.

銅胎掐絲琺瑯獅戲圖碗 Cloisonné bowl with a playing-lion illustration

明 十六世紀中期以前 銅胎掐絲琺瑯獅戲圖碗 Cloisonné bowl with a playing-lion illustration, Early to middle 16th century, Ming dynasty

Copper cloisonné bowl with a playing-lion illustration is covered with light blue glaze, and the centre of the bowl has a horse galloping between the turbulent waves and colourful clouds, while the outer ring is engraved with a lotus petal pattern. The inner wall of the bowl has six Chinese lions playing with balls with different glaze colours. The bowl is decorated with tangled branches and pitching lotus patterns. The bottom of the bowl is lightly gilded. The decorations are vivid and the glaze is elegant. The date of production should be before the mid-sixteenth century.

掐絲琺瑯雙龍盤 Cloisonné plate with decoration of two dragons

明 萬曆 掐絲琺瑯雙龍盤 Cloisonné plate with decoration of two dragons, Wanli reign (1573-1620), Ming dynasty

The chrysanthemum petals are folded along the flat-bottomed circle foot plate, and the copper body is gilded with filigree ornamentation. The light green heart is full of auspicious clouds in five colors, with the red and yellow double dragon arch guarding group birthday in the center. The oblique wall and the bottom of the plate are decorated with light blue filigree moiré. The former is decorated with eight miscellaneous treasures and eight auspiciousness, and the bottom is filled with green space in red “Great Ming Wanli Reign” (1573-1620). The enamel layer is thin and colorful, and it is an important standard for cloisonné enamel in the late Ming Dynasty.

掐絲琺瑯葫蘆式扁瓶 Cloisonné flat vase in the shape of a gourd

明 掐絲琺瑯葫蘆式扁瓶 Cloisonne flat vase in the shape of a gourd, Early 17th century, Ming dynasty

Copper tire, gourd-style bottle, bulging lips and neck, and round body, while the bottle body is oblate, with rectangular gilt short feet, and gilt moiré ears. Full of light blue glaze, the neck and the side of the bottle are decorated with entwined branches and lotus patterns; one side of the abdomen is decorated with plum, bamboo and deer, and on the other side is the eaves of the palace and the crane carrying the peach branches flying over the fairy mountain on the sea. It should be a late Ming work.

Qing Dynasty Cloisonné 清代琺瑯器

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

清 康熙 掐絲琺瑯冰梅紋五供 (瓶) 
Set of five cloisonne altar pieces with plum-blossom decoration, Kangxi reign (1662-1722), Qing dynasty

清 康熙 掐絲琺瑯冰梅紋五供 (瓶) Set of five cloisonne altar pieces with plum-blossom decoration, Kangxi reign (1662-1722), Qing dynasty

A pair of long-necked copper vases, with a dangling belly like a gall bottle, with double-ring ears of Kuilong on the neck, gilded rim, ears, and soles of the feet, and inscribed in double-line regular script “Kangxi Years”. This pair of bottles are combined with a cloisonné enamel double-ring stove and a candle holder to form a set of five offerings. The body is also decorated with a light blue cloisonné enamel ice plum pattern bottle, and the ring feet are decorated with five-color curling clouds. Inside each bottle is inserted a copper lacquer five-color gold-painted Ganoderma lucidum. Although the colored lacquer is slightly peeled off, it is not diminishing the magnificence and solemnity.

畫琺瑯鳳紋盤 Painted enamel plate with phoenix decoration

清 康熙 畫琺瑯鳳紋盤 Painted enamel plate with phoenix decoration, Kangxi reign (1662-1722), Qing dynasty

Copper base, yellow ground sixteen-petal fancy phoenix pattern folded along the plate. The folded edges are painted with white ground and blue colored curly grass patterns, and the inner and outer walls of the low wall are painted with blue ground multi-color grass leaf patterns and yellow ground multi-color plate glass patterns. The center of the disc is centered on the red cluster flower, emitting rhythmic wavy petals, and a total of four pairs of flying phoenixes are drawn inside each petal, dancing in a clockwise direction; the center of the disc and the petals are both chiseled in bas-relief , More three-dimensional. The bottom of the plate echoes the surface of the plate. There are eight tumbling leaves painted on the white ground. The leaf shape and veins are outlined in dark colors, and then rendered in yellow and blue glaze; the bottom of the white ground “Kangxi Imperial” double round frame and double row dark red regular script . One of the characteristics of the Kangxi dynasty painting enamel works in the mature period is that it prefers to use yellow as the background, which is rare outside the territory. The shape and decorative design of this vessel are novel, the painting color gradation is rich, the level is distinct, the glaze is evenly fired, and it is an exquisite display device.

畫琺瑯黃地牡丹紋蟠龍瓶 Painted enamel vase with dragons and peony decoration

清 雍正 畫琺瑯黃地牡丹紋蟠龍瓶 Painted enamel vase with dragons and peony decoration, Yongzheng reign (1723-1735), Qing dynasty

The copper body, the shape of the vessel is imitated from the Tibetan grass vase of Lamaism. The folding edge is in the form of a wheel, with flat shoulders and abdomen. The shoulders are inlaid with two gilded front one-horned flower tail high-relief Kuilong. The gilded mouth surface is inscribed with the turnip lotus, and the mouth wall is painted with ruyi cloud heads and flowers and grass patterns. On the neck, a circle of turning grass leaves with a ground-sun pattern is the focus of decoration. The upper part is a dark blue turning branch flower and leaf painted on a light blue ground, and the lower part is a yellow ground turning peony; the belly is bright and yellow ground is decorated with various colors of peony flowers and leaves. Peach fruit, bat, Ganoderma lucidum, etc. The short circle feet are gilded, and the “Yongzheng Year” frameless double-line regular script is engraved on the bottom of the vessel. This vase is unique in shape, with bright yellow as the ground, and is decorated with patterns that symbolize blessing (bat) and longevity (peach fruit, ganoderma lucidum) and wealth (peony). It is also inlaid with exquisite metalwork and a dragon on the front. The magnificent utensils should be used by the emperor.

內填琺瑯西方仕女執壺、盃、盤 Champleve ewer, cup and sauce decorated with Western female figures

清 乾隆 內填琺瑯西方仕女執壺、盃、盤 Champleve ewer, cup and sauce decorated with Western female figures, Ch’ien-lung reign (1736-1795) , Ch’ing dynasty

The pot body is a flat pot, with extravagant mouth, long neck, round belly and round feet. The body is engraved and embossed with Western flowers and grass patterns, filled with dark green enamel glaze for brocade, and the lid, neck, shoulders, abdomen and feet are decorated with various shapes of opening lights. The lid has a coral button, and a chain is connected to the handle; the pot flows out of the dragon mouth on the belly of the organ, and is connected with the neck of the pot with a moiré beam, and echoes the handle on his side. Various flowers and Western houses are painted at the opening. A picture of the mother and son of Western characters is painted on the belly. The oval-shaped soles are flat, engraved in overcast, and the “Qianlong Years” is double-lined in regular script on both sides.

Came with similarly styled extravagant cups with abdomen ring and hollow moire ears. Light blue glaze is applied to the inside of the cup, the body is engraved and embossed with Western flowers and grass patterns, and the maroon enamel glaze (with a layer of transparent glaze on top) is a brocade. The front and back of the abdomen are opened, and pictures of Western mothers and children are painted, and various flowers are painted around the feet. , With light blue glaze on the bottom, blue “Qianlong Nianzhi” double-line regular script on both sides.

The cup was placed on a twelve-piece lotus petals-like folded edge flat chassis, and cup holders at the centre of the cup are bowl-covered protrusions. The edge of the pan, the cup holder and the center of the pan are engraved with embossed Western flowers and plants, filled with burnt green and maroon enamel (with a layer of transparent glaze on top) as the brocade, and the openings are painted with different Western landscapes, flowers, and mother and child pictures. The inner wall of the plate is painted with a hundred-flower brocade, and the outer wall is painted with a circle of turning branches and grass patterns and turning branches with flowers and leaves. The bottom is light blue glaze, and the central recess is inscribed in frameless double-line Song style inscriptions “Made in Qianlong Reign”.

金胎掐絲琺瑯鳳耳豆 Gold cloisonne dou vessel with phoenix handles,

清 乾隆 金胎掐絲琺瑯鳳耳豆 Gold cloisonne dou vessel with phoenix handles, Qianlong reign (1736-1795), Qing dynasty

The golden tires are shaped like bronze beans in the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period. The cover has a round catch, the cover and the body are combined to form a bulging abdomen, with a high circle of feet, and gilt gold rings on both sides with phoenix ears. The whole body is decorated with dark green cloisonné enamel. Except for several key patterns, the whole vessel is covered with circle patterns, and the interior is decorated with white enamel beads with three borders. “Qianlong Years” inscribed on the bottom of the vessel. The whole ware imitates the Yongzheng dynasty copper cloisonné enamel phoenix ear beans, but the enamel technique is more mature.

仿青銅器琺瑯器 Cloisonne in the style of Shang-Zhou bronzeware

仿青銅器琺瑯器 Cloisonne in the style of Shang-Zhou bronzeware

清 十八世紀中後期 (1740-1800) 銀胎掐絲琺瑯獸面紋方觚
Silver cloisonne square gu vessel with animal-mask decoration, Middle to late 18th century, Qing dynasty

Silver tire, antique bronze square goblet shape, short square ring feet, four corners. The watch is mainly decorated with antique animal face patterns, cicada patterns, dragon patterns, etc., and the diamond grid pattern is the brocade; it is made by filigree technique, with hammered water waves and circle patterns, and filled with transparent and bright depths. Light blue, green, brown and opaque white enamel. Exquisite and meticulous, it should be a cultural relic in the middle and late eighteenth century.

清 十八世紀中後期 (1740-1800) 掐絲琺瑯天雞尊 
Cloisonne zun vessel in the form of a heavenly bird, Middle to late 18th century, Qing dynasty

About the National Palace Museum

The National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院) was originally founded within the walls of the Beijing Forbidden City in 1925, the present-day National Palace Museum moved to Taipei’s Shilin District following the Republic of China government relocation in 1949 with an official opening for the public in 1965.

Over 600,000 of the most precious artefacts within the collection were moved to Taiwan to prevent their desecration during and after the Chinese Civil War. 

Due to the enormous numbers of collection spreads over 4 floors and 2 exhibition halls, the museum’s exhibits continuously rotate, as only a small percentage of the museum’s collection can be displayed at a given time to prevent wear and tear, so there will always be a new series of collection being exhibited on each visit! 

Date Visited : Oct 2018

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