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Chinese Arts - Handicrafts
Enamel and Cloisonné 琺瑯文物

As a substitute for the more costly process of inlaying with precious or semiprecious stones, enamelwork (falang 琺瑯) was developed to give the surface of metal objects a vitreous glaze by intense heat to create a brilliantly coloured decorative effect. Enamel is a kind of soft glass, compounded of flint or sand, red lead, and soda or potassium. These materials are melted together, producing an almost clear glass flux with a slighly bluish or greenish tinge. Clear flux is the base from which coloured enamels are made, the colouring agent being a metallic oxide, introduced into the flux when it is in a molten state. Otherwise, the addition of calx, a mixture of tin and calcined lead, renders translucent enamels opaque. Solidified "cakes" of cooled enamel are pulverized into a fine powder. The powder then is spread on the metal object's surface and is dried in front of the furnace before introduced into the muffle of the furnace itself. The vessel being heated to the point at which the enamel fuses and adheres to its metal base, the firing of enamel takes only a few minutes.
Painted enamels in China are also called Canton enamels as this city was the principal seat of their manufacture. This technique is directly influenced by Western art, and a great part of Canton enamels was indeed produced for export. The Chinese called the painted enamel "Western porcelain" (yangci 洋瓷), the decoration "Western colors" (yangcai 洋彩) as it is very different from the traditional Chinese motifs and colors. Painted enamels are made by laying a ground of opaque enamel, generally white or opaque, and on this the main colors are superimposed and fired.
Cloisonné (qiasi falang 掐絲琺瑯) is a special technique, by which thin strips of metal are bent and curved to follow the outline of a decorative pattern. They are then soldered to the surface of the metal object, forming miniature walls that meet and create little cells between them. Into these cells, powdered enamel is laid and fused. After is has cooled, the surface can be polished to remove imperfections. Champlevé is the opposite process of cloisonné technique: The surface of the object is gouded away, creating channels that form the outline of the design, and that are filled with the enamel powder.
This golden box from the Qing time 清, not square, but octogonal with eight faces, is only partially covered with enamel.
This gourd shaped vase from Qing time is an example for enamel painting and clearly demonstrates the porcelain like quality of the enamel technique.
A small cup with bowed spoon to insert water into the ink stone. The spoon only contains a minimum of water and allows the painter or writer to mix the grounded ink exactly with the amount of water needed.
Two examples shall show that Qing Dynasty bowls were not purely an industrial mass product of mean quality like we know them from the China food shop from the corner. While the bowl to the left shows us five different kinds of flowers on a coral red ground, the bowl to the right is partially covered with an enamel drawing of a pheasant among peony flowers.
A zun 尊 type cloisonne vessel, giving a good example for an old shape revived with new materials, during Qing time. Today, cloisonne work is very popular and used for every kind of metal objects, like little boxes, bowls, chopsticks, or figurines with animal shapes.

  © 2000 ff · Ulrich Theobald · Mail