ⓘ Cloisonné


ⓘ Cloisonne

Cloisonne is an ancient technique for decorating metalwork objects. In recent centuries, vitreous enamel has been used, and inlays of cut gemstones, glass and other materials were also used during older periods. The resulting objects can also be called cloisonne. The decoration is formed by first adding compartments to the metal object by soldering or affixing silver or gold 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. Cloisonne enamel objects are worked on with enamel powder made into a paste, which then needs to be fired in a kiln.

In antiquity, the cloisonne technique was mostly used for jewellery and small fittings for clothes, weapons or similar small objects decorated with geometric or schematic designs, with thick cloison walls. In the Byzantine Empire techniques using thinner wires were developed to allow more pictorial images to be produced, mostly used for religious images and jewellery, and by then always using enamel. By the 14th century this enamel technique had 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 cloisonne enamel objects using Chinese-derived styles were produced in the West from the 18th century.


1.1. History Early techniques

Cloisonne first developed in the jewellery of the ancient Near East, typically in very small pieces such as rings, with thin wire forming the cloisons. In the jewellery of ancient Egypt, including the pectoral jewels of the Pharaohs, thicker strips form the cloisons, which remain small. In Egypt gemstones and enamel-like materials sometimes called "glass-paste" were both used. The Byzantines perfected a unique form of cloisonne icons. Byzantine enamel spread to surrounding cultures and a particular type, often known as garnet cloisonne is widely found in the Migration Period art of the "barbarian" peoples of Europe, who used gemstones, especially red garnets, as well as glass and enamel, with small thick-walled cloisons. Red garnets and gold made an attractive contrast of colours, and for Christians the garnet was a symbol of Christ. This type is now thought to have originated in the Late Antique Eastern Roman Empire and to have initially reached the Migration peoples as diplomatic gifts of objects probably made in Constantinople, then copied by their own goldsmiths. Glass-paste cloisonne was made in the same periods with similar results – compare the gold Anglo-Saxon fitting with garnets right and the Visigothic brooch with glass-paste in the gallery. Thick ribbons of gold were soldered to the base of the sunken area to be decorated to make the compartments, before adding the stones or paste. Sometimes compartments filled with the different materials of cut stones or glass and enamel are mixed to ornament the same object, as in the Sutton Hoo purse-lid. In the Byzantine world the technique was developed into the thin-wire style suitable only for enamel described below, which was imitated in Europe from about Carolingian period onwards.


1.2. History Enamel

The earliest surviving cloisonne pieces are rings in graves from 12th century BC Cyprus, using very thin wire. Subsequently, enamel was just one of the fillings used for the small, thick-walled cloisons of the Late Antique and Migration Period style described above. From about the 8th century, Byzantine art began again to use much thinner wire more freely to allow much more complex designs to be used, with larger and less geometric compartments, which was only possible using enamel. These were still on relatively small objects, although numbers of plaques could be set into larger objects, such as the Pala dOro, the altarpiece in Saint Marks Cathedral, Venice. Some objects combined thick and thin cloisons for varied effect. The designs often as at right contained a generous background of plain gold, as in contemporary Byzantine mosaics. The area to be enamelled was stamped to create the main depression, pricked to help the enamel adhere, and the cloisons added.

Two different techniques in Byzantine and European cloisonne enamel are distinguished, for which the German names are still typically used in English. The earliest is the Vollschmelz "full" enamel, literally "full melt" technique where the whole of a gold base plate is to be covered in enamel. The edges of the plate are turned up to form a reservoir, and gold wires are soldered in place to form the cloisons. The enamel design therefore covers the whole plate. In the Senkschmelz "sunk" enamel, literally "sunk melt" technique the parts of the base plate to hold the design are hammered down, leaving a surrounding gold background, as also seen in contemporary Byzantine icons and mosaics with gold glass backgrounds, and the saint illustrated here. The wires and enamels are then added as before. The outline of the design will be apparent on the reverse of the base plate. The transition between the two techniques occurs around 900 in Byzantine enamel, and 1000 in the West, though with important earlier examples. The plaques with apostles of around the latter date on the Holy Crown of Hungary show a unique transitional phase, where the base plaque has hammered recesses for the design, as in senkschmelz work, but the enamel covers the whole plaque except for thick outlines around the figures and inscriptions, as in the vollschmelz technique see the gallery below for examples of this technique and vollschmelz work. Some 10th-century pieces achieve a senkschmelz effect by using two plates superimposed on each other, the upper one with the design outline cut out and the lower one left plain.

From Byzantium or the Islamic world the technique reached China in the 13–14th centuries; the first written reference is in a book of 1388, where it is called "Dashi ware". No Chinese pieces clearly from the 14th century are known, the earliest datable pieces being from the reign of the Xuande Emperor 1425–35, which however show a full use of Chinese styles suggesting considerable experience in the technique. It was initially regarded with suspicion by Chinese connoisseurs, firstly as being foreign, and secondly as appealing to feminine taste. However, by the beginning of the 18th century the Kangxi Emperor had a cloisonne workshop among the many Imperial factories. The most elaborate and highly valued Chinese pieces are from the early Ming Dynasty, especially the reigns of the Xuande Emperor and Jingtai Emperor 1450–57, although 19th century or modern pieces are far more common. The Chinese industry seems to have benefited from a number of skilled Byzantine refugees fleeing the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, although based on the name alone, it is far more likely China obtained knowledge of the technique from the middle east. In much Chinese cloisonne blue is usually the predominant colour, and the Chinese name for the technique, jingtailan "Jingtai blue ware", refers to this, and the Jingtai Emperor. Quality began to decline in the 19th century. Initially heavy bronze or brass bodies were used, and the wires soldered, but later much lighter copper vessels were used, and the wire glued on before firing. The enamels compositions and the pigments change with time.

In Byzantine pieces, and even more in Chinese work, the wire by no means always encloses a separate color of enamel. Sometime a wire is used just for decorative effect, stopping in the middle of a field of enamel, and sometimes the boundary between two enamel colors is not marked by a wire. In the Byzantine plaque at right the first feature may be seen in the top wire on the saints black sleeve, and the second in the white of his eyes and collar. Both are also seen in the Chinese bowl illustrated at top right.

Chinese cloisonne is amongst the best known enamel cloisonne in the world.

The Japanese also produced large quantities from the mid-19th century, of very high technical quality. In Japan cloisonne enamels are known as shippō-yaki 七宝焼. Early centres of cloisonne were Nagoya during the Owari Domain. Companies of renown were the Ando Cloisonne Company. Later centres of renown were Edo and Kyoto. In Kyoto Namikawa became one of the leading companies of Japanese cloisonne. The Namikawa Yasuyuki Cloisonne Museum is specifically dedicated to it.

Russian cloisonne from the Tsarist era is also highly prized by collectors, especially from the House of Faberge or Khlebnikov, and the French and other nations have produced small quantities. Chinese cloisonne is sometimes confused with Canton enamel, a similar type of enamel work that is painted on freehand and does not use partitions to hold the colors separate.

In medieval Western Europe cloisonne enamel technique was gradually overtaken by the rise of champleve enamel, where the spaces for the enamel to fill are created by making recesses using various methods into the base object, rather than building up compartments from it, as in cloisonne. Later techniques were evolved that allowed the enamel to be painted onto a flat background without running. Plique-à-jour is a related enameling technique which uses clear enamels and no metal backplate, producing an object that has the appearance of a miniature stained glass object - in effect cloisonne with no backing. Plique-a-jour is usually created on a base of mica or thin copper which is subsequently peeled off mica or etched away with acid copper.

Other ways of using the technique have been developed, but are of minor importance. In 19th century Japan it was used on pottery vessels with ceramic glazes, and it has been used with lacquer and modern acrylic fillings for the cloisons. A version of cloisonne technique is often used for lapel badges, logo badges for many objects such as cars, including BMW models, and other applications, though in these the metal base is normally cast with the compartments in place, so the use of the term cloisonne, though common, is questionable. That technique is correctly referred to by goldsmiths, metalsmiths and enamellists as champleve.

A large collection of 150 Chinese cloisonne pieces is at the G.W. Vincent Smith Art Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts.


2. Modern process

First the object to be decorated is made or obtained; this will normally be made by different craftspeople. The metal usually used for making the body is copper, since it is cheap, light and easily hammered and stretched, but gold, silver or other metals may be used. Cloisonne wire is made from fine silver or fine gold and is usually about.010 x.040 inches in cross section. It is bent into shapes that define the colored areas. The bends are all done at right angles, so that the wire does not curve up. This is done with small pliers, tweezers, and custom-made jigs. The cloisonne wire pattern may consist of several intricately constructed wire patterns that fit together into a larger design. Solder can be used to join the wires, but this causes the enamel to discolour and form bubbles later on. Most existing Byzantine enamels have soldered cloisons, however the use of solder to adhere the cloison wires has fallen out of favor due to its difficulty, with the exception of some "purist contemporary enamellists" who create fine watch faces and high quality very expensive jewelry. Instead of soldering the cloisons to the base metal, the base metal is fired with a thin layer of clear enamel. The cloisonne wire is glued to the enamel surface with gum tragacanth. When the gum has dried, the piece is fired again to fuse the cloisonne wire to the clear enamel. The gum burns off, leaving no residue.

Vitreous enamels in the different colors are ground to fine powders in an agate or porcelain mortar and pestle, then washed to remove the impurities that would discolor the fired enamel. The enamel is made from silica, niter, and lead oxide to which metallic oxides are added for coloring. These ingredients are melted together, forming a glassy frit which is ground again before application. Each color of enamel is prepared this way before it is used and then mixed with a very dilute solution of gum tragacanth. Using fine spatulas, brushes or droppers, the enameler places the fine colored powder into each cloison. The piece is left to dry completely before firing, which is done by putting the article, with its enamel fillings, in a kiln. The enamel in the cloisons will sink down a lot after firing, due to melting and shrinkage of the granular nature of the glass powder, much as sugar melting in an oven. This process is repeated until all cloisons are filled to the top of the wire edge.

Three styles of cloisonne are most often seen: concave, convex, and flat. The finishing method determines this final appearance. With concave cloisonne the cloisons are not completely filled. Capillary action causes the enamel surface to curve up against the cloisonne wire when the enamel is molten, producing a concave appearance. Convex cloissone is produced by overfilling each cloison, at the last firing. This gives each color area the appearance of slightly rounded mounds. Flat cloisonne is the most common. After all the cloisons are filled the enamel is ground down to a smooth surface with lapidary equipment, using the same techniques as are used for polishing cabochon stones. The top of the cloisonne wire is polished so it is flush with the enamel and has a bright lustre. Some cloisonne wire is electroplated with a thin film of gold, which will not tarnish as silver does.


3. Examples


  • The Khakhuli triptych, a large gold altarpiece with over 100 Georgian and Byzantine plaques, dating from the 8th to 12th centuries, said to be the largest enamelled work of art in the world.
  • The 12th century Mosan Stavelot Triptych, combining cloisonne and champleve work.
  • the eyes of the 10th century Golden Madonna of Essen
  • The Alfred Jewel, a 9th-century Anglo-Saxon ornament
  • The 8th-century Irish Ardagh Chalice

Gems and glass

  • The Pectoral of Tutankhamun, image, and several others.
  • The 5th-century Germanic Treasure of Pouan
  • The 5th century grave goods of Childeric I, last pagan king of the Franks, died c. 481
  • The 6th-century Merovingian Treasure of Gourdon
  • Ando Cloisonne Company 安藤七宝店, Andō Shipōyaki is a Japanese cloisonne making company located in Sakae, Nagoya, central Japan. Owari province was one
  • Kin unken 錦雲軒 Kin unken Shipōyaki was a Japanese cloisonne making company located in Kyoto, western Japan. The company was given an imperial warrant
  • videos featuring the band were also produced for Spoiler Alert and Cloisonne The music video for When Will You Die which featured the construction
  • The craft of cloisonne enameling is a metal and glass - working tradition practiced in the Byzantine Empire from the 6th to the 12th century AD. The Byzantines
  • Japanese cloisonne artist from Nagoya. His work is held in the collections of the Walters Art Museum and the Ashmolean Museum. The Ando Cloisonne Company
  • Shibatarō 川出柴太郎, 1856 1921 was a Japanese cloisonne artist. For a while he was also the head of the Ando Cloisonne Company based in Nagoya. Many of his works
  • rectangular paten that were similarly applied with garnets and turquoises in cloisonne compartments, together with about a hundred gold coins dating from the
  • Late Romans and then the Byzantine, who began to use cloisonne enamel in imitation of cloisonne inlays of precious stones. The Byzantine enamel style
  • 1845 1927 was a Japanese cloisonne artist. For his work he was nominated an Imperial Household Artist. The Namikawa Cloisonne Museum in Higashiyama - ku
  • carved ivory, Pre - Columbian artifacts, Steuben glass, Chinese porcelain, Cloisonne Tiffany glass, and Boehm porcelain as well as rotating exhibitions. Fodors
  • which is filled with cotton and hard paper. Its top is decorated with cloisonne ornaments. The crown is also called jokdu or jokgwan and is used mostly