Japanese Cloisonné


Turn-of-the-Century Japanese Cloisonné Miniature Teapot with Graphic Florals (LEO Design)


Cloisonné is the French word for the enamel work technique in which a metal surface (usually copper or brass) is artfully subdivided with metal wires or strips to create small fields—each holding a different color of enamel.  Glass powder is blended into a paste and applied to each field (called a "cloison") following the designer's color plan.  Once the colored pastes are applied, the piece is fired in a kiln (to melt, that is "vitrify," the glass powder into enamel), cooled and polished to create a smooth, lustrous surface.  In some cases, whole gemstones were cut-to-fit and inserted into the fields.  But the use of glass enameling was a quicker, less costly way of achieving an impressive effect.

Cloisonné is an ancient technique, at least 5,000 years old.  It was practiced by the Mesopotamians, Egyptians and Greeks. Its use spread through Byzantium, the Islamic world, and throughout Medieval Europe.  In the 1400's, through trade with the Near East, cloisonné was introduced to China.

Japan was familiar with Chinese cloisonné and, in the 1830's, samurai Kaji Tsunekichi took apart a piece of Chinese cloisonné to "reverse engineer" the process.  He became a master of Japanese cloisonné making, starting with small objects (like sword fittings and small decorative medallions).  Eventually, Tsunekichi moved-on to larger pieces, like vases, bowls and plates, and began training artists in the craft.  By the 1850's, when Japanese trade opened with the West, Japanese cloisonné production output escalated.  Western consumers in the second half of the Nineteenth Century were enamored of all things "Oriental"— and beautiful cloisonné works were highly valued by European collectors who paid high prices for prize specimens.  By the 1860's the Victoria and Albert Museum in London was actively collecting Japanese cloisonné for its displays of decorative arts.

The "Golden Age" of Japanese cloisonné making was between 1880 and 1910.  Japanese cloisonné is recognized by its use of small, graphic elements—usually flowers, insects or other graphic shapes.  Japanese cloisonné also frequently employs borders and edging of enameled dots.

The Japanese little brass teapot, shown above, is dressed in cloisonné patterns of highly-graphic flowers.  The lapis blue background is enhanced with curlicues of brass wire (which can be seen by enlarging the photo).  Even the cover and the handle of the pot is nicely decorated.  And don't miss the finial-knob atop the lid.  It is nicely-cast with ribs, ensuring an easy lift.  Click on the photo above to learn more about it.


Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com)

We also can be found in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).

Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248