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Enamel Elegance: Discovering the World's Finest Cloisonné Collections

Cloisonné, an ancient technique for decorating metalwork objects, has been a symbol of meticulous artistry and cultural expression for centuries. Let's delve into the captivating world of cloisonné, exploring its history, techniques, and the five museums around the globe that boast the most impressive collections of this vibrant art form.

Large cloisonné tea jar serene blue - Natalia Willmott

The Essence of Cloisonné

Cloisonné is a unique form of art that involves creating a design on metal with thin wire partitions—which are called "cloisons" in French—to which enamel paste is applied. The object is then fired in a kiln, and the process is repeated until the desired richness of colour is achieved. Finally, the surface is polished to a lustrous finish. This technique allows artists to create intricate patterns and detailed depictions, often imbued with symbolic meanings.

Cloisonné tea box tall eye blue lozenge by Fabienne Jouvin - Natalia Willmott

Historical Roots

The origins of cloisonné are deep-rooted, with early pieces dating back to the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century. However, it is the Chinese iterations from the Ming dynasty that most often capture the imagination of art lovers. These pieces frequently feature motifs such as dragons, lotus flowers, and phoenixes, which are rich in symbolism and narrative. Cloisonné was also popular in the Islamic world and spread to Europe, where it was known as "email de Limoges" in France during the medieval period.

Technique Mastery

Creating cloisonné involves several precise and labor-intensive steps. First, the artist sketches a design on a metal object, usually made of copper or bronze. Thin metal strips are then adhered to the surface to form the "cloisons". Enamel of different colours is washed into the compartments, a process requiring great precision. The object is fired at high temperatures to harden the enamel. This process may be repeated several times to fill in the compartments adequately and ensure a smooth surface.

Top Five Museums with Impressive Cloisonné Collections

  1. The Palace Museum, Beijing, China

    • Located in the Forbidden City, it holds an extensive collection of imperial cloisonné from various dynasties, showcasing the evolution of the art form in China.
    • check out the Quing dynasty gold cup and saucer
  2. The British Museum, London, UK

    • This museum houses a diverse collection of cloisonné from around the world, including significant pieces from ancient China and the Byzantine Empire.
    • check out the Chinese Ming dynasty  incredible dragon vase
  3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

    • Known for its comprehensive collection of decorative arts, the Met boasts an impressive array of cloisonné pieces, particularly those from Japan and China.
    • check out this incredible temple pendant and stick from the Byzantine period
  4. The Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France

    • While primarily focused on French art, the Musée d'Orsay features an exquisite collection of 19th-century French cloisonné enamels, reflecting the revival of the technique in Europe during that period.
    • check out the ornamental vase by Constant Sévin, a sculptor and ornamentalist.
  5. The Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

    • This museum highlights Japan's unique contribution to cloisonné, featuring pieces from the Meiji era when Japanese artists began experimenting with vibrant colours and intricate designs.
    • check out this 19th c Quing wine vessel with masks 

      Cloisonné remains a fascinating art form, not only for its aesthetic appeal but also for its historical significance and the skill required to create each piece. It continues to inspire artist to create a diverse vocabulary to adorn traditional pieces. You can visit the pieces in our collection Here.

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