Cloisonné is a traditional art widely known in and outside China. It is a kind of superb local expertise from Beijing, which combines the skills of bronze art, porcelain, carving, and other types of folk arts. It is deemed valuable in the eyes of collectors, as well as providing refined ornaments for daily use.
A Qing-dynasty (1616-1911) cloisonné vase with a peach-and-bat design is a famous artifact. 1ts mouth, belly and base are welded together instead of being originally one piece. Its surface is first inlaid with copper wires, before the colorful glaze is applied. The nine peaches and bats have the symbolic meaning of happiness, longevity and peace.
The making of cloisonné first appeared during the Jingtai reign (1450-1457) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), with the main color used being blue, hence the name "Jingtai blue" or cloisonné as it became known later on. By the time of the Chenghua reign (1465-1487), the techniques for making cloisonné were further developed, with products of this period looking heavy and dignified yet not lacking in eloquence or vividness. Its cast was always made of choice copper, decorated with enamel and colorful glaze naturally extracted from minerals, so that it would resemble precious gems. The Ming cloisonné artifacts extant today were mostly produced during the Jingtai and Chenghua reigns.
Cloisonné production involves very complicated techniques, with more than 30 working procedures. First, the making of the copper cast : plates of copper are tapped into a certain form, and fixed through firing at high temperatures. Then craftspeople use nippers to apply hair-thin copper wires onto the surface of the cast to form various designs. This technique is called "filigree."The concave designs are then filled with enamel and glaze of different colors, a technique known as "stippling blue."After being fired at high temperatures, the enamel and glaze coagulate, and careful burnishing is then needed.
With the final touches of gilding, a cloisonné product is finished. Cloisonné was further developed during the Qing Dynasty. Technically, while it overcame the weakness of the porosity of the Ming products, but artistically, it lacked the former's simplicity and dignified heaviness. After the Qing Dynasty, due to overproduction and the uneven skills of craftspeople, the quality of cloisonné could hardly match that of Ming cloisonné products.