Vintage and Antique Cloisonne

Though the word is French, cloisonné refers to a form of decorative art usually associated with China or Japan, although it probably originated in Turkey or ancient Mesopotamia.

In cloisonné, metal filaments of gold or copper are soldered to a metal surface to create tiny compartments, or cloisons, that are then filled with ground enamel. The cloisonné object—be it a vase, sword fitting, or piece of architectural hardware—is then fired, refilled with enamel, and fired again multiple times to account for the shrinkage of the enamel as the object is heated to 800 degrees. After the enameling phase is deemed complete, the object is polished until smooth to the touch, and sometimes even covered with clear lacquer.

Chinese cloisonné first appeared in the early 14th century during the Ming dynasty. The technique did not become popular in Japan until the late 16th century. One of the distinctive elements of Japanese cloisonné is the delicacy of the wire used to separate the enamel colors. Indeed, by the late 19th century, some examples of Japanese cloisonné lacked wires entirely.

A close cousin of Japanese cloisonné is a technique called moriage, which was popularized by the Ando Company of Nagoya in the early 20th century. Like cloisonné, moriage is made from fired layers of enamel, but the layers are built up to give the color in a given cloisons depth and dimension rather than opacity.


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