I'm trying to make sense of the first several examples of the cloisonné technique. Is the design incised on the second plaque? Also what is the white powdery substance on the fourth and fifth?
With the cloisonné process seen here, the design is first etched or drawn onto the metal. After that, metal wires are attached to the surface. In this case, I believe the white substance may function like a primer.
The enamel on these is rather thin, which is not the case in the Chinese court examples. The thinner enamel layers might have been harder to attain the intended colors in this case.
I find the cloisonné technique fascinating and I'm so glad we have this step-by-step example of it in the collection!
Thanks! Yeah I had always wondered about this process and those examples are super illustrative!
What were these plaques used for?
The plaques illustrate the process of cloisonné. They could have been made as samples for a workshop. The objects on display were made in enamel workshops, where artisans in training could reference them.
I wonder if the top right tablet is pre-fired enamel powder? Or wet packed enamel?
Based on what we know about cloisonné techniques in China at the time, these would have been colored using an enamel paste.
The material shrinks when it is fired and more needs to be added to fill each space.
Are all the samples in the case fired or do some show the dried enamel paste before it’s been fired?
Some of these plaques show the paste unfired to help illustrate all the steps in the cloisonné process.
They must be very fragile! Thank you!
Tell me more.
This series of plaques illustrates the multi-step process required to create the beautiful cloisonné you see around them!
Another visitor recently asked about the type of enamel that Qing dynasty artisans would have used. We determined that it would have been a paste. This colored, glass-like paste shrinks when it is fired which is why you see evidence of multiple rounds of coloring and firing before the piece is complete!
Could you tell us what is cloisonné enamel?
Cloisonné is a technique where small partitions made of metal wire are glued to a metal base and then these little partitions are filled with enamel.
The metal wires are soldered down and then translucent, colored enamel in whatever color the design requires is used to fill these holes. The vessel is fired (like a ceramic) to affix the enamel, but the enamel shrinks when it is fired, so this filling and firing process has to be done several times to get a full, brightly colored end product.
Finally, the vessel is shined, and the wires are sometimes gilded, to create a brilliant finish.