Cloisonné are metallic objects made with intricate designs and artwork which have been a unique piece of art and creativity since ancient times. It is a unique way of designing metal objects with gemstones, glass materials, enamel paints and other decorative objects which make this art an edge over other handicraft materials. The decoration on the metal objects by initially adding compartments to the metal objects with gold and silver wires. Once the soldering is done, they are finalized with enamel paints and then they are fired in a kiln. This piece of art has its existence since ancient times and has been as old as since 13 century BCE.
The existence of this piece of art has been majorly in Europe, Asia and North America. However this delicate piece of artwork has its existence majorly in china and Japan. Although Chinese and Japanese cloisonné are almost similar, yet there are some difference that will help you to buy the right piece of artwork.
In this article I will provide you with the common difference between Chinese and Japanese cloisonné.
1. The simplest and the easiest to way to differentiate between in the Chinese and Japanese cloisonné is to look at the border and rim of the two metal objects. Chinese cloisonné are finished products of smooth and bright turquoise interior. On the contrary, Japanese cloisonné have an orange peel texture on the enamel. Chinese pieces have their borders decorated with Ruyi. Ruyi are colored decorative items which are 1 inch in width. They look like an upside down cloverleaf with a dot in the centre of each clover. However, Japanese cloisonné do not have any such wide borders on their metal pieces. Instead they use thin decorations at the rim which are mostly of reddish brown, blue or green in color. These thin decorations are dots which are decorated at the edges of the metal piece.
2. There is a strike difference in the birth of the cloisonné objects in china and Japan. Chinese cloisonné were well developed and were open to trade before Japan. In contrast, Japan has always kept itself secured and protected from the entire world and hence they developed this art and started to trade few centuries later. Chinese cloisonné began developing this artwork as early as 1300s and gradually it was adapted by other artists. Japan too initially adopted Chinese method of decorating metal vases and bowls in 1830s and lately in 1870s they developed their own unique style of creating and finalizing the artwork. So in other words, we can say that the roots of the cloisonné lies in china and later on in other countries. However, Japanese have proved themselves an ace in cloisonné objects.
3. Though Japanese cloisonné came late into existence, however, they have excelled past china. And henceforth, Japanese cloisonné have a larger variety of cloisonné in comparison to chinese cloisonné. Most famous kinds of Japanese cloisonné is Ginbari, Akasuke and Totai. The different in the three styles lie in their finishing. Totai was coated with a brown tree bark texture, Ginbari with bright, translucent enamels and Akasuke with a clear red enamel.
4. Difference also lies on the marks or the seals of the cloisonné from two countries. Chinese cloisonné were often sealed or marked in bright enamel. The sealed was impressed between 1897 and 1921 for export trade and often encrypted with “made in china” after 1921 and only “china” from 1897 to 1912. On the contrary, Japanese cloisonné were not marked or sealed. This was mainly due to the reason that Japanese cloisonné were exported from local clients which did not require any exportation marks.
5. There is a slight difference in the enamel coating of the cloisonné of the two countries. The bottom of the Chinese cloisonné is coated with enamel in order to strengthen it for high heat of kiln. Enamel coating was done to protect the base to crack or wrap from excessive heating. Japanese cloisonné did not have any such enamel coating and instead they were decorated with cloisonné wires with orange peel texture coating.
6. The designs of the two art pieces were also different. Chinese cloisonné were mostly designed and decorated with symmetrical designs symbolizing nature like seasonal flowers or Buddhist lotus pattern or mythical animals such as kara-shishi, winged horse or phoenix. Japanese cloisonné used symbols such as the Japan’s empress or emperor symbol. They use mostly asymmetrical designs with more crowded appearance than Chinese cloisonné. A common design which was used by the two countries was a dragon motif. The only difference in the dragon motif lies in the number of toes depicted. A Japanese cloisonné had three toes depicted whereas Chinese cloisonné had four or five toes depicted.
7. In terms of the gilding and finish of the two cloisonné; Chinese cloisonné use gilding with gold in order to protect them from heat. Often the surfaces of Chinese cloisonné are glassy and are bright in color. In case of Japanese cloisonné, all the metal objects are not gilded instead had a combination of copper, silver and brass wires.
8. Most of the Japanese cloisonné were of unusual shapes and sizes in contrast to the Chinese cloisonné’s which had a symmetrical shapes comprising of incense burner, a vase and two candle sticks.
9. The bodies of Japanese cloisonné were mostly made up of copper or bronze and Chinese cloisonné had bronze bodies. However, sheet- copper bodies in Chinese cloisonné were introduced in the early sixteenth century.
10. In comparison to Chinese cloisonné, Japanese cloisonné are more polished and reflect light.
I believe, that more we come to know the difference between the Chinese and Japanese cloisonné’s, the better we can differentiate between the two and can gather more knowledge while purchasing them. Though there is a difference between the two countries, yet you will find a wide variety of antique designs and creativity in both the of these metal pieces.