Asian Antiques Appraisals And Valuations

Exploring the World of Cloisonné Art – Collecting Tips

Cloisonné art, known as “jingtai lan” in Chinese, boasts a rich history that traces its origins back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). It was introduced to China from the Middle East, where the striking color blue, known as “lan,” held particular favor. However, it wasn’t until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that cloisonné art truly flourished and gained immense popularity among the Chinese imperial court and the elite. The Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) also witnessed a thriving period of cloisonné production, with various regional styles and techniques emerging.

This intricate art form involves the use of metalwork, enamel, and precise firing techniques. Typically, copper serves as the base metal, molded into the desired shape, such as a vase or censer. Cloisonné enamel works from the early Ming period are quite rare, as production was meticulously regulated by the Palace eunuchs who operated under the auspices of the Yuyongjian, a sub-division of the Neifu, known as “The Inner Treasury,” responsible for supplying the Imperial household.

To create cloisonné art, colored-glass paste is delicately placed within enclosures crafted from copper or bronze wires, which are skillfully bent or hammered into intricate patterns. These enclosures, known as “cloisons” (derived from the French word for “partitions”), are generally either pasted or soldered onto the metal body. The glass paste, or enamel, is infused with metallic oxide and then meticulously painted into these enclosures.

The vessel undergoes multiple firings in a kiln, typically at a relatively low temperature of about 800°C. Enamels naturally shrink after firing, so the process is repeated several times to completely fill in the intricate designs. Once this labor-intensive process is complete, the vessel’s surface is polished until the edges of the cloisons become visible. They are often gilded, frequently adorning the edges, the interior, and even the base.

Quality and Authenticity

Cloisonné objects were primarily intended for adorning temples and palaces. When it comes to collecting Ming cloisonné art, various factors should be considered. These include the quality of the wirework, the condition of the enamel, the authenticity of the piece, and its provenance. Authentic Ming cloisonné pieces are prized and rare, as many were lost or destroyed over centuries due to wars, political upheavals, and natural disasters. Genuine Chinese cloisonné pieces should display exceptional craftsmanship, precise enamelwork, vibrant colors, and signs of age such as wear, patina, and evidence of previous restorations. The piece’s provenance, or documented history, is also crucial in determining its authenticity and value. Beware of modern reproductions or counterfeit items that may attempt to mimic traditional Chinese cloisonné art but lack the craftsmanship and quality of genuine pieces.

Styles and Themes

Chinese cloisonné art presents a diverse array of styles and themes that reflect the artistic and cultural influences of different periods. The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) stands out as a golden age for this exquisite art form. As noted by Soame Jenyns, “It is the 15th Ming cloisonné pieces which are likely to remain the chief monuments to the skill of the Chinese metal worker in the field.” Ming cloisonné is characterized by bold and rich colors, including deep blues, vibrant greens, rich reds, and lustrous purples. These designs often feature auspicious symbols such as dragons, lotus flowers, fruits, and intricate geometric patterns.

Collecting Tips

Collecting Chinese cloisonné art can be a rewarding and captivating pursuit. The refined styles, meticulous techniques, and historical significance of these pieces make them valuable additions to any collection of Chinese art. To build a meaningful and significant collection, it’s essential to be knowledgeable about the development, styles, and techniques of Chinese cloisonné art. Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Conduct thorough research to learn about the various styles, historical periods, and techniques of Chinese cloisonné art.
  2. Attend auctions, art fairs, and reputable dealers to view and handle different pieces, gaining a sense of their quality and authenticity. Be cautious of modern reproductions or counterfeit items.
  3. Inspect the enamelwork for evenness, smoothness, and vibrancy of colors. Look for signs of age, such as wear, patina, and indications of previous restorations or repairs.
  4. Consider the size, shape, and condition of the piece. Pieces in good condition with minimal damage or restoration tend to be more valuable and collectible.
  5. Verify the provenance and authenticity of the piece. Seek accompanying documentation, such as certificates of authenticity or historical records, and consult with experts or reputable dealers if necessary.
  6. Collect pieces that resonate with your personal taste and interests. Chinese cloisonné art offers a wide range of styles, sizes, and themes, so choose items that you genuinely appreciate.
  7. Take proper care of your collection, handling cloisonné art with care to avoid damaging the delicate enamelwork. Protect pieces from direct sunlight, extreme temperature changes, and excessive moisture. Regularly clean and dust your collection using non-abrasive methods.

Chinese Antique Valuations And Appraisals

Do you own a piece of Chinese porcelain or an oriental work of art that you would like to know more about, such as age, history and value?

Then you should really consider using our Chinese Antique Valuation Service as the last thing you want to do is risk under selling the piece due to lack of knowledge or ill gotten advice.