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Home > Articles & Guides > Cloisonne Urns: The Elegance of Chinese Artisty

Cloisonne Urns: The Elegance of Chinese Artisty

Cloisonne Urns
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Cloisonne Urns

Cloisonne urns are handcrafted to perfection out of brass and brilliant enamel. Each cloisonne urn is a custom work involving a highly detailed process that begins with the creation of a shape and follows several intricate steps until the urn is gilded and polished to render a bright, shining finish.

How Cloisonne Urns Are Made

The general method for making cloisonne urns involves first soldering brass wires to the surface of a copper urn to form a pattern or illustration, then, according to the requirements of each pattern, colored enamels are filled in.

Enamel is made by melting different materials such as red lead, boric acid borate, and glass powder together to become an opaque or translucent glistening substance. A variety of oxidized metals are added, and the substance then changes into enamels of different colors, or enamel coloring. After the melted enamel cools and becomes solid, it is then ground into powder and mixed with water prior to the filling in process.

After the spaces delineated by brass wires on the copper object are filled in with enamel paste, the cloisonne urn is then fired. After every firing, the enamel will contract, producing an uneven surface. It is then necessary to fill in the uneven places with enamel paste of the same color many times over. This procedure had to be repeated many times until every filled-in space on the urn becomes thoroughly smooth without any depressions. Only then is firing process of the cloisonne urn complete.

Cloisonne urns that have been fired then need to have its surface polished smooth so that the soldered brass wire pattern and the enamel substance are melded into one. Finally, the exposed brass wires between parts of the patterns as well as the rim and the bottom of the cloisonne urn, to which enamel has not been applied, are highly polished and in some cases gold plated. Thus, a cloisonne urn is finished.

Cloisonne urns must have colors that are moist glossy, fresh and bright, a body that is substantive and sturdy, a wire inlay that is neat and well--proprotioned. Its delicate appearance and splendid patterns should emit a classical warmth that rivets the gaze, and leaves one too infatuated to part with it.

History of Cloisonne

Although the birthplace of enamel work is unknown, the first evidence of enameling was discovered in a 13th Century B.C. Mycenaean tomb in Cyprus. Cloisonne developed dramatically in the Byzantine Empire between the 6th and 12th Centuries A.D., with the use of gold as the metal substrate for the covering of the enamel. Through the years, enamelwork spread spread to Western Europe where different types of enameling were developed.

It is believed that the technique for cloisonne enameling reached China through missionaries from central Asia sometime in early to mid-14th Century A.D. Shortly after its introduction to China, the Chinese made cloisonne enameling a truly distinctive Chinese art form by mastering the skill of manufacturing enamel products, and constantly improving and enhancing the technique. The main reason that such stunning achievements were possible in such a short time after the introduction of cloisonne enameling to China was due to the fact that at that time, the Chinese nation possessed excellent conditions for developing cloisonne. The Chinese already had metallurgical technology, such as bronze casting and glass and glaze production techniques were well known, giving the artisans the knowledge of accurately controlling the firing temperature for the enameling.

During the reign of Ming Emperor Ching T'ai in the mid-15th Century, cloisonne production was extremely prosperous and many cloisonne works of the most delicate quality were produced. These works are mostly fused with a kind of special blue enamel as the base color, hence the term for cloisonne in Chinese: chng-t'ai-lan ("Ching-t'ai-Blue"). With the efforts of Chinese artisans, Chinese cloisonne has become the standard by which to measure the quality and appraise the beauty of cloisonne.

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