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China Bouquet – Chinese Cloisonné

2018-04-12 | | Art China

It is as gentle as ancient jade, and as gallant as colorful silk. From paintings and sculptures to bronzes and porcelains, it is a combination of Chinese traditional arts and crafts. This is Chinese Cloisonné.

Chinese Cloisonné (Jingtai Blue), also known as the cloisonné technique or copper padding thread weaving enamel, was introduced into China more than 6 centuries ago, during the Yuan Dynasty. After maturing under the reign of Emperor Jingtai during the Ming Dynasty, Chinese Cloisonné ultimately flourished under Emperor Qianlong during the Qing Dynasty.

From making the copper mold, welding copper, and coloring, to firing, polishing, and gold-plating, each piece of Chinese Cloisonné artifact undergoes six stages to reach completion. Due to the complexity of the craft and cost of materials, Chinese Cloisonné artifacts used to be owned solely by royal families – in fact, there is a saying goes“one piece of Chinese Cloisonné artifact was worth as much as ten cases of imperial wares”.

Due to the chaos caused by war, the use of this technique almost disappeared after the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC). To reverse a potential loss of art, architects Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin co-established an arts and crafts group under the department of construction at Tsinghua University, which aimed at recovering the Chinese Cloisonné technique. Consequently, they were not only able to create new patterns and color maps, but also design the Jintai Blue lamp. Author Guo Moruo referred to their success as“the first present for PRC”.

Before passing away, Lin Huiyin told her students,“Chinese Cloisonné is a national treasure, and we cannot let it disappear from New China.” To fulfill her mentor’s wish, artist Qian Meihua dedicated decades of her life to Chinese Cloisonné artifacts. She often spent time in the Chinese Cloisonné storage vault at the Forbidden Palace, researching and compiling traditional designs. At the age of 82, she created her last piece, The Zun of Peace,as a present for the 60th anniversary of the founding of China.

A student of Meihua Qian, Zhong Liansheng became the third generation of artists to inherit the Chinese Cloisonné technique. He successfully incorporated simple but distinct modern aspects into this traditional technique. According to him, inspiration comes from everyday life; this is seen in A Dream of Lotus Flowers series, where during a weekend holiday, he found inspiration while peering down a lake filled with lotus flowers. Breaking away from the traditional Chinese Cloisonné decoration technique, his unique creation had minimal welding.

From cultural exchanges to state visits, from large-scale landscape projects and displays to daily necessities, the Chinese Cloisonné technique is more widely seen and incorporated into modern daily life.

Through enlightened discovery and keen creation, the past masters of Chinese Cloisonné spent their lives protecting this craft, which in turn taught us that“innovation is the best inheritance”.

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