Type of Enamelling Used in Metalwork, Goldsmithing and Jewellery Art.

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Pectoral of Senusret II (c.1890 BCE)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
A masterpiece of Egyptian art, with
cloisonné inlays on gold decorated
with carnelian, feldspar, garnet,
turquoise and lapis lazuli.
Senusret II was the fourth pharaoh
of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt and
ruled from 1897 to 1878 BCE.

Cloisonné Enamelling


Characteristics of Cloisonné Enamelling
Origins and History
Famous Examples
Related Articles

Note: Enamelling is a type of ancient decorative art commonly used to embellish metal, glass or ceramic objects. It involves mixing powdered glass with other materials to create a paste which is smeared onto the object. The whole thing is then fired in an oven. The paste melts and hardens to a smooth, durable vitreous coating. Spectacular coloured enamels can be created by adding certain metallic ores to the powdered glass.

The Ardagh Chalice. A masterpiece
of medieval art, noted for its
exquisite cloisonné enamelwork.
(8th/9th century CE, National Museum
of Ireland.) For more about the Celts
and their enamelling, please see
Celtic Jewellery Art.

Detail of Khakhuli Triptych, showing
Emperor Michael VII Ducas and
Empress Mary. (8th-12th century)
Art Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi.

Characteristics of Cloisonné Enamelling

One of the oldest and best-known enamelling techniques, widely seen in precious metalwork and goldsmithery, Cloisonné derives its name from the French word (cloison) for "compartment" or "partition". In simple terms, cloisonné enamelling is a three-stage process. First, flat metal strips (or wire) made of gold, silver, brass, or copper are soldered onto the surface of the metal object being decorated, so as to create tiny mini-walled cellular compartments. Next, these partitioned compartments are filled either with inlays of cut gemstones or other precious materials, or with colourful vitreous enamel paste. Finally, the whole construction is fired in a kiln, given a smooth finish and polished. Known to Classical Antiquity and medieval Christian art, as well as Islamic art throughout the Middle East, and Byzantine culture across the Eastern Roman Empire, cloisonné enamelling also appeared in Chinese art during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). In Japan, it was a popular method of decoration during the Edo period (1603-1868) and Meiji period (1868-1912). A more advanced and visually impressive cloisonné technique is known as Plique-à-jour, in which the "compartments" are made using temporary walls which are later removed after the enamel has cooled. During the era of Romanesque art, cloisonné was gradually superceded in Europe by champlevé enamelling, which uses sunken rather than raised compartments.

Origins and History

The earliest cloisonné enamelwork appeared in the jewellery art of Ancient Egypt, like the pectoral jewels worn by the Pharaohs, and in 12th century BC tombs on the island of Cyprus. (See also Ancient Greek Metalwork.) It was then adopted by migrating Barbarian tribes such as the Visigoths, whose goldsmiths combined thick-walled cloisons with red garnets, gold and vitreous enamel. At the same time, the thin-wire technique was being developed in the Eastern Roman Empire centered on Constantinople, and in Western Europe by Celtic metalwork, which had a huge influence on early Christian art in monasteries across Ireland and northern England. The style was also imitated during the era of Carolingian art at the court of King Charlemagne in Aachen, and during the succeeding period of Ottonian Art, which was itself responsible for several unique masterpieces of German medieval art, including the Gero Cross (965–70), the Golden Madonna of Essen (980) and the Cross of Otto and Mathilda (973). Enamelwork was also a speciality of Mosan art, a regional school of Romanesque culture centered on the Bishopric of Liege in present-day Belgium. Led by goldsmiths such as Godefroid de Claire (1100-73) and Nicholas of Verdun (1156–1232), the movement was renowned for both its cloisonné and champlevé enamelling.

Cloisonné decoration arrived in China in the 14th century, during the era of Ming Dynasty art, where it became known as "Dashi ware". Indeed, the most highly regarded Chinese items were made during the reigns of the Xuande Emperor and Jingtai Emperor (1450–57). The Chinese cloisonné industry may have benefited from the arrival of numerous Byzantine craftsmen following the sack of Constantinople in 1453. In any event Chinese enamelwork is the best known cloisonné in the world (see, for instance, the extensive collection of Chinese cloisonné at the G.W. Vincent Smith Art Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts), although exquisite examples of the technique (known as "Shippo") were created by Japanese artists from the mid-19th century onwards. During the era of modern art, cloisonné enamelling reached its apogee around the turn of the century in Russia, in the form of masterpieces created by the Khlebnikov silversmiths and Fabergé goldsmiths for the Romanov court in St Petersburg.

Famous Examples of Cloisonné Enamelling

There are numerous outstanding examples of precious metalwork decorated with cloisonné enamelwork. They include: the Pectoral of Senusret II (1890 BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art); the Celtic-style Petrie Crown (100 BCE); the Iron Crown of Lombardy (8th/9th century, Monza Cathedral); the Irish Ardagh Chalice (8th/9th century, National Museum of Ireland); the Altar-tomb of St. Ambrose (850, Basilica of Saint Ambrose, Milan); the Khakhuli Triptych (8th-12th century, Art Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi); the Alfred Jewel, a 9th-century Anglo-Saxon ornament; the Golden Madonna of Essen (10th century, Essen Cathedral); "Pala d'Oro", the famous altar screen in St Mark's Cathedral Venice, commissioned by the doge Ordelafo Faliero from Byzantine enamellers in 1102; the Stavelot Triptych (1156, Morgan Library & Museum, New York); and the Fabergé Easter Eggs created by Peter Carl Fabergé (1846–1920).

Related Articles

Enamelling is related to several other types of art involving the use of glass or metallic ores. See for instance the following articles.

Mosaic Art
The art of using glass tesserae to decorate walls, ceilings and pavements, mastered during the era of Byzantine art.

Stained Glass Art: Materials & Methods
A form of Christian art that reached its apogee in Gothic architecture.

Ceramic Art
Kiln-fired clay sculpture.

Ancient Pottery (from 18,000 BCE)
The first functional art to appear during the Upper Paleolithic.

Colour Pigments: Types, History
A-Z List of the best-known artist-colours, lakes and glazes.


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