Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016


Jingtai Blue Christmas

 [Pilgrim Bottle Vase
early 17th century. Cloisonné enamel on copper alloy, 10 1/4 x 6 11/16 in. (26 x 17 cm).
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Samuel P. Avery, 09.657. Creative Commons-BY-NC.]

This time of year, I look at Chinese bowls, vases and jars from a different angle. My mom usually fills one of her larger famille rose bowls with a mass of old gold balls, and tucks cut evergreens and red berries into her blue-and-white. But Atlanta-based interior designer Capella Kincheloe has me thinking about Chinese cloisonné.

[Large Four Sided Club Shaped Vase, late 18th century. Cloisonné enamel on copper alloy, 20 9/16 x 6 1/4 in. (52.3 x 15.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Samuel P. Avery, 09.512. Creative Commons-BY-NC.]

In any season, Capella loves to give color-phobic rooms a boost by bringing in a luminous, brilliantly hued antique Chinese cloisonné bowl. It’s a seemingly small yet powerful and enduring touch that plays off neutrals wonderfully.

Cloisonné enamel decoration involves the application of colored-glass paste on metal vessels. The technique takes its name from the French word for partitions, “cloisons”, because the various colors of paste are kept within sections of thin wires shaped by an artisan into a decorative pattern.

[Medium Sized Ewer and Cover, late 16th-early 17th century. Cloisonné enamel on copper alloy, 13 3/8 x 3 1/8 x 3 1/8 in. (34 x 8 x 8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Samuel P. Avery, 09.574a-b. Creative Commons-BY-NC.]

As noted in The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, cloisonné was introduced to China by outside sources—scholars determine Byzantine and perhaps Mongol era influences. Initially the Chinese found the vivid mix of colors to be garish, but ultimately they grew to appreciate it, perfecting cloisonné in the fifteenth century.

Pieces from the Jingtai reign period (1450-1456) were deemed to be superior and in the Chinese language “Jingtai blue,” a reference to the characteristically rich blue background color, is used in place of the word cloisonné.

[Large Vase, 1736-1795. Cloisonné enamel on copper alloy, 15 7/8 x 8 11/16 in. (40.3 x 22 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Samuel P. Avery, 09.503. Creative Commons-BY-NC.]

“I am drawn to pattern and the Chinese patterns are so iconic. The colors are beautifully saturated as well,” Capella explains. She thinks the “blue of Jingtai” seems to go with everything and adds, “I have great respect for artisans doing incredibly detailed work in ways that have been done for centuries. The machine-made pieces don’t have the same beauty and soul.”

With four years experience working in Los Angeles for antiques connoisseur and White House decorator, Michael S. Smith, she says, “I learned from Michael that it’s important to mix styles; adding a Chinese bowl to a room sprinkled with antiques and contemporary fabrics creates layers and the sense that a collector occupies the space. And I find that Asian details can be easily incorporated into my design for a hint of wanderlust.”

“These are all important elements in my design: history, luxury, culture, and color,” notes Capella. BTW: If you're in Atlanta this week, there are just a few days left to see her contribution to the 2010 Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles Christmas House.

Now I'm off to rifle around for cloisonné bowls stashed away in a box -- something for floating winter white camelias. To see more striking examples of old cloisonné, visit the Brooklyn Museum.


emile.debruijn said...

Love the cloisonné/jingtai, those intense and sometimes - tu us westerners - slightly outré colour combinations.

Style Court said...

Emile --

Just read this over at the Bard site. The part about women's apartments made me smile:

"In 1388, after the Chinese had reclaimed power from the Mongol “barbarians” and `founded the Ming dynasty, Cao Zhao wrote “Essential Criteria of Antiquities,” (Gegu yaolun) a guide for collectors of “antiquities” in which he made it clear that cloisonné enamels originating in the Frankish Lands (Folan or Falan), were not suitable for study by members of the scholar class. Their gilded surfaces and brilliant colors put them at odds with the austere criteria of the scholars’ aesthetic inherited from the Song dynasty... According to Cao Zhao, cloisonné enamels were really appropriate only for the apartments of women."