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The Fine Art of Cloisonné

Cloisonné is a decorative art form developed during the Chinese Yuan Dynasty during the thirteenth century. Since its creation, cloisonné has been used to produce many beautiful works of art such as vases and jewelry but also a pleasing variety of household objects in various colors and patterns.

cloisonné dish
at The Met

Cloisonné is basically a way of decorating a metal object with enamel in a particular pattern. First the metal object is formed to the desired overall shape. The artist then creates the desired decorative pattern on paper and transfers the design to the metal object. Metal partitions, usually wire, are applied to the metal object along the lines of the decorative pattern, forming partitions or cloisons. The object is then heated to permanently affix the cloisons to it. Then a paste made of enamel, called frit, is applied with a brush to each cloison in the desired pattern. Once the entire surface has been painted with enamel, it is ground and polished to smoothness. The exposed metal of the cloisons is then typically electroplated to give it a smooth and bright appearance.

Enamel is a glass-like substance that can be produced in a variety of colors and transparencies. It is chiefly composed of silica, lead and potash which form a neutrally colored substance. The addition of selected metallic oxides defines various colors. Transparency is achieved by the addition of tin oxide and opaqueness is achieved by the addition of lead oxide. The metal object and the metal cloisons must be composed of the same material to ensure good adhesion, typically gold, silver or copper. The cloisons are attached to the base object with a soldering paste. When the entire object is fired, it must be at a temperature that is higher than the melting point of the enamel but lower than the melting point of the metal, so that the objects itself does not also melt, typically about 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. Polishing is usually accomplished by hand with emery or charcoal, although a lathe is often used in modern times.

The finest examples of cloisonné enameling were created in Europe during the Byzantine era, around the sixth century.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
   You can see Diana's own artwork by visiting her site at