Japanese Cloisonne a Treasured Masterpiece

Cloisonne etymology

Japanese art masterpiece that apparently symbolized their culture and tradition are undeniably full of astonishment. One of the pride treasures that gives not only aesthetic but as well as the soul of their creativity is a Cloisonné. Let us first define it, it is an ancient technique for decorating metalwork objects with colored material held in place or separated by metal strips or wire, normally of gold. Back in history, in recent centuries, vitreous enamel has been used, but inlays of cut gemstones, glass and other materials were also used during older periods. It is well indeed that cloisonné enamel very probably began as an easier imitation of cloisonné work using gems. The decoration is formed by first adding compartments to the metal object by soldering or affixing silver or gold as wires or thin strips placed on their edges. These remain visible in the finished piece, separating the different compartments of the enamel or inlays, which are often of several colors. Additionally, Cloisonné enamel objects are worked on with enamel powder made into a paste, which then needs to be fired in a kiln. If gemstones or colored glass are used, the pieces need to be cut or ground into the shape of each cloison. We can conclude that it takes passion and hard work to fulfill its majestic product.

The antiquity of the cloisonné technique was mostly used for passion jewellery and small fittings for clothes such as pins, brooch, buttons and more, weapons or similar small objects decorated with geometric or schematic designs, with thick cloison walls. Further information, in the Byzantine Empire techniques using thinner wires were developed to allow more pictorial images to be produced, mostly used for religious images and jewelleries, and by then always using enamel. This was also used in Europe, especially in Carolingian and Ottonian art. And by the 14th century this enamel technique had been replaced in Europe by champlevé, but had then spread to China, where it was soon used for much larger vessels such as bowls and vases; the technique remains common in China to the present day, and cloisonné enamel objects using Chinese-derived styles were produced in the West from the 18th century.

While in Middle Byzantine architecture, "cloisonné masonry" refers to walls built with a regular mix of stone and brick, often with more of the latter. The 11th or 12th-century Pammakaristos Church in Istanbul is an example.

To the main idea as for the Japanese realm, it is also produced large quantities from the mid-19th century, of very high technical quality. And during at the time of the Meiji era, Japanese cloisonné enamel reached a technical peak, because the producing of items became more advanced than any that had existed before, such a very good impression. And when during the period from 1890 to 1910 which was known and called as the "Golden age" of Japanese enamels. An early centre of cloisonné was Nagoya during the Owari Domain, with the Ando Cloisonné Company which is the leading producer. Later centres were Kyoto and Edo, and Kyoto resident Namikawa Yasuyuki and Tokyo that is renamed from Edo a resident Namikawa Sōsuke exhibited their works at World's fair and won so many awards. In Kyoto Namikawa became one of the leading companies of Japanese cloisonné. The Namikawa Yasuyuki Cloisonné Museum is specifically dedicated to it. In Japan cloisonné enamels are known as shippō-yaki or in Japanese characters 七宝焼. Japanese enamels were regarded as unequalled thanks to the new achievements in design and colouring which we can say based on their genuity.

Cloisonne is often creted by using a process called enamelling which is a type of ancient decorative art commonly used to embellish metal, glass or ceramic objects. It involves mixing powdered glass with other materials to create a paste which is smeared onto the object. The whole thing is then fired in an oven. The paste melts and hardens to a smooth, durable vitreous coating. Spectacular coloured enamels can be created by adding certain metallic ores to the powdered glass.

Origin of Cloisonne

Emphasizing the Japanese cloisonné, it uses an ancient enameling technique originating in the West during the Middle Ages. The term cloisonné comes from the French cloison, which is the meaning is a partition or segments, and refers to a form of decoration in which metal strips or wires are applied to a surface in closed shapes. Glass or enamel are melted into each partitioned area to create an elegant, jewel-like decoration. Initially, cloisonné adorned small portions of jewelry and metal accessories.

In China, cloisonné evolved as a significant art form. The Imperial palace workshop was the leading epicenter of high-quality cloisonné products, mainly produced to glorify temples and palaces. The color of early Chinese cloisonné works was predominantly turquoise blue. Over time, the palette expanded to and included in the whole color spectrum, as well as white and black. From these colorful Chinese cloisonné prototypes the modern Japanese cloisonné was born. Known in Japan as “shippo,” or “seven treasures,” skilled artisans achieved gem-like colors.

Japanese artists introduced many innovative techniques to cloisonné art. They achieved well-delineated colors and designs without wires. While the Chinese technique was generally applied to bronzes, Japanese artisans applied cloisonné to a variety of surfaces from bronze to clay and glazed porcelain. Japanese creatives experimented with new mediums and colors such as gold and silver speckles, foils, and pitch black. Above all, they added painterly designs to their repertoire making the Japanese cloisonné unique and different from the Chinese prototypes that employed mostly patterns and limited color palette of enamel.

The most noticeable difference between Japanese and Chinese cloisonné is the glassy surface. Japanese cloisonné is almost always finely ground and buffed to achieve this polished jewel-like transparency on the surface. Another striking difference is in the realistic design. On Japanese cloisonné, natural trees and flowers are preferred and realistically rendered while Chinese works dominantly use auspicious symbols, such as dragons and lotus scrolls, in simplified patterns and designs.

Also unique to Japanese cloisonné is the use of colors, particularly in the background. Japanese artists use a single ground color to contrast with the realistic scenes depicted and to provoke a poetic mood as seen in the example below, whereas Chinese artists used dominantly turquoise blue and rarely left their background blank, instead they are filled with a pattern or two.

We find another difference between the two in purpose and usage. Japanese cloisonné technique is applied to vessels of various shapes, often as an okimono for artistic enjoyment and appreciation, while Chinese cloisonné is applied to decorate variously shaped bronze animals, such as shishi, horses, and ducks, to ward off evil or to ensure good fortune. 

Skinner’s June auction offers a Japanese cloisonné collection superb in both scope and quality. It is a result of a collector’s lifetime devotion and zeal for Japanese cloisonné, almost all purchased through renowned galleries and dealers in the USA and Europe. Examples produced during the so-called Golden Age (1880-1910), including household names and their workshops, such as Ando, Miwa, Hayashi, and Ota of Nagoya and Inaba, Gonda, Kumeno, Tamura, Takeuchi, and Namikawa of Kyoto.

Examples exhibit colors ranging from creamy white to emerald blue, olive green, crimson red, gold-speckled brown, and pitch black, to list a few. Techniques are varied, some using musen (without wire), ginbari (foiled ground), totai (ceramic body), and moriage (embossing). Many others exhibit the more traditional yusen (with wire) technique on a copper or silver body. The collection is truly a rare treat for Japanese cloisonné collectors. This is in reference from a good blogger by Suhyung Kim at Skinner Blog site.

Other reference states and explained the origin of cloisonne by Woodrow Carpenter. In the late ’20’s, a small enamel tray, made in China, introduced us to the word cloisonne. The material looked like the granite ware in our kitchen. Obviously, the wires were used to keep the colors separated. Then, cloisonne was enamel with wires separating the colors. Simplicity, pure and simple. This is where the majority of the general public leaves the subject, little knowing or caring about its rich history.

Cloisonne is a French word meaning to be compartmentalized, be cut off from one another, to feel cut off, or shut out. According to Garner1 the term goes back to the eighteenth century. He did not provide an exact date or indicate who first used the term to describe the finished enamel or technique. Barsali2 tells us Theophilus used “Correolae” for the cells or compartments. Harper’s New Monthly #344, January 1879 states during the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries what is now called simply cloisonne was called “esmaulx de plique” or “emaux de plite”.

the term goes back to the eighteenth century. He did not provide an exact date or indicate who first used the term to describe the finished enamel or technique. Barsali2 tells us Theophilus used “Correolae” for the cells or compartments. Harper’s New Monthly #344, January 1879 states during the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries what is now called simply cloisonne was called “esmaulx de plique” or “emaux de plite”.

Traditionally we think of cloisonne as thin strips (usually rectangular in cross section) of metal bent to form the outline of a design and fastened to the surface of a metal object, either by soldering or a coat of enamel. The resulting cells (cloisons) are then filled with enamel.

Researchers agree the cloisonne technique originated in Egypt prior to 1800 B.C. Gold ornaments were inlaid with small pieces of turquoise, lapis lazuli, carnelian and garnet, the inlays held in position by ribs soldered to the gold base. Speculations are goldsmiths and glass workers collaborated to forge or imitate these works using artificial gems. First, pieces of colored glass were substituted for the stones. Some appear to have been cemented in place.

In the April 1989 (Vol. 8, No. 2) issue of Glass on Metal, Dr. Panicos Michaelides wrote about six, thirteenth century B.C. rings found in Kouklia, a small village in southwest Cyprus. In August 1989, David Buckton presented a paper at our conference describing the process used in making the cloisonne inserts in these rings. First, an open framework or grid was constructed by soldering together gold strips. The framework was then placed into the bottom of a cavity in a mold (probably soapstone). The cavity was such that a round disk would be produced. The gold strips used for the framework were not as wide as the depth of the cavity, thus the framework did not extend to the top of the cavity. The cells of the framework were filled with colored glass powder. Finally, a different colored glass powder was put in to fill the space around and above the framework. After firing, the disk was tipped out. The result was cloisonne on one side and plain glass on the other side. This technique was used straight through to the eleventh century A.D.

Near the end of Mr. Buckton’s presentation, he showed a slide of a late thirteenth century piece of so-called email de plique, which today we know as cloisonne.

It was inevitable that at some stage, someone would run out of cement and try to fuse the glass insert by heating. And, of course, we know someone discovered glass powder could be fused directly to the metal. Progress by fortunate accidents and the genius of crafts people looking for shortcuts is the main ingredient of progress.

Did Cloisonne Yaki originate in ancient Egypt?

One of the oldest and best-known enamelling techniques, widely seen in precious metalwork and goldsmithery, Cloisonné derives its name from the French word (cloison) for "compartment" or "partition". In simple terms, cloisonné enamelling is a three-stage process. First, flat metal strips (or wire) made of gold, silver, brass, or copper are soldered onto the surface of the metal object being decorated, so as to create tiny mini-walled cellular compartments. Next, these partitioned compartments are filled either with inlays of cut gemstones or other precious materials, or with colourful vitreous enamel paste. Finally, the whole construction is fired in a kiln, given a smooth finish and polished. Known to Classical Antiquity and medieval Christian art, as well as Islamic art throughout the Middle East, and Byzantine culture across the Eastern Roman Empire, cloisonné enamelling also appeared in Chinese art during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). In Japan, it was a popular method of decoration during the Edo period (1603-1868) and Meiji period (1868-1912). A more advanced and visually impressive cloisonné technique is known as Plique-à-jour, in which the "compartments" are made using temporary walls which are later removed after the enamel has cooled. During the era of Romanesque art, cloisonné was gradually superceded in Europe by champlevé enamelling, which uses sunken rather than raised compartments.

The earliest cloisonné enamelwork appeared in the jewellery art of Ancient Egypt, like the pectoral jewels worn by the Pharaohs, and in 12th century BC tombs on the island of Cyprus. (See also Ancient Greek Metalwork.) It was then adopted by migrating Barbarian tribes such as the Visigoths, whose goldsmiths combined thick-walled cloisons with red garnets, gold and vitreous enamel. At the same time, the thin-wire technique was being developed in the Eastern Roman Empire centered on Constantinople, and in Western Europe by Celtic metalwork, which had a huge influence on early Christian art in monasteries across Ireland and northern England. The style was also imitated during the era of Carolingian art at the court of King Charlemagne in Aachen, and during the succeeding period of Ottonian Art, which was itself responsible for several unique masterpieces of German medieval art, including the Gero Cross (965–70), the Golden Madonna of Essen (980) and the Cross of Otto and Mathilda (973). Enamelwork was also a speciality of Mosan art, a regional school of Romanesque culture centered on the Bishopric of Liege in present-day Belgium. Led by goldsmiths such as Godefroid de Claire (1100-73) and Nicholas of Verdun (1156–1232), the movement was renowned for both its cloisonné and champlevé enamelling.

Cloisonné decoration arrived in China in the 14th century, during the era of Ming Dynasty art, where it became known as "Dashi ware". Indeed, the most highly regarded Chinese items were made during the reigns of the Xuande Emperor and Jingtai Emperor (1450–57). The Chinese cloisonné industry may have benefited from the arrival of numerous Byzantine craftsmen following the sack of Constantinople in 1453. In any event Chinese enamelwork is the best known cloisonné in the world (see, for instance, the extensive collection of Chinese cloisonné at the G.W. Vincent Smith Art Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts), although exquisite examples of the technique (known as "Shippo") were created by Japanese artists from the mid-19th century onwards. During the era of modern art, cloisonné enamelling reached its apogee around the turn of the century in Russia, in the form of masterpieces created by the Khlebnikov silversmiths and Fabergé goldsmiths for the Romanov court in St Petersburg.

Furthermore, there are a collection of famous Examples of Cloisonné Enamelling that we can explore. There are numerous outstanding examples of precious metalwork decorated with cloisonné enamelwork. They include: the Pectoral of Senusret II (1890 BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art); the Celtic-style Petrie Crown (100 BCE); the Iron Crown of Lombardy (8th/9th century, Monza Cathedral); the Irish Ardagh Chalice (8th/9th century, National Museum of Ireland); the Altar-tomb of St. Ambrose (850, Basilica of Saint Ambrose, Milan); the Khakhuli Triptych (8th-12th century, Art Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi); the Alfred Jewel, a 9th-century Anglo-Saxon ornament; the Golden Madonna of Essen (10th century, Essen Cathedral); "Pala d'Oro", the famous altar screen in St Mark's Cathedral Venice, commissioned by the doge Ordelafo Faliero from Byzantine enamellers in 1102; the Stavelot Triptych (1156, Morgan Library & Museum, New York); and the Fabergé Easter Eggs created by Peter Carl Fabergé (1846–1920). This is in reference from the Encyclopedia of Art Education at visual-arts-cork.com.

What is the charm of Cloisonne Yaki?

The Japanese produced large quantities of cloisonné from the mid-19th century, of very high technical quality. In Japan cloisonné enamels are known as 七宝焼 / SHIPPŌ-YAKI . Early centres of cloisonné were Nagoya during the Owari Domain. Companies of renown were the Ando Cloisonné Company. Later centres of renown were Edo and Kyoto. In Kyoto Namikawa became one of the leading companies of Japanese cloisonné. The Namikawa Yasuyuki Cloisonné Museum is specifically dedicated to it. Let us take a look at the origin of the Cloisonne Yaki from Ando cloisonne. “Cloisonne” is derived from the “seven treasures” spoken of in the Buddhist scriptures. The type of jewel varies depending on the Buddhist scripture, but in the Lotus Sutra, it is said to be "gold, silver, lapis lazuli, clam shell, agate, maie (a type of shell) and pearl".

Around the Momoyama period, “Cloisonne ware” seems to have been named because it is as beautiful as the seven gems.

Wired Cloisonne is a product with silver wire implanted in metal and fired with glass glaze. The technique was established by Tsunekichi Kaji in Owari Kaifu-gun (currently Kaifu-gun, Aichi Prefecture) during the Tempo era. Later, with the development of science and technology in the latter half of the 19th century and the growing awareness of arts and crafts, Cloisonne's technique and design also developed rapidly.

In the art world, when the movement of Japonism took place mainly in Europe and the United States, Japan's Cloisonne arts at the World's Expositions held around the world became highly valued worldwide as a uniquely Japanese craft for their artfulness and exquisiteness, unrivaled by others.

The charm of Cloisonne as a fine piece of art that fascinated the world as part of the beauty of Japanese culture has permeated not only among art lovers in Japan and overseas, but also as the decoration of various items of daily life.

The sparkling appearance peculiar to Cloisonne and the depth of the overlapping colors catches the heart of the person who sees it.

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