Posts Tagged 'Dallas Museum of Art Collection'



How It’s Made: Japanese Cloisonné

Have you ever wondered how Japanese artists created such beautiful cloisonné pieces?  Well, I have, and after a lot of research, I’d like to share what I discovered.

What is Cloisonné?

The technique of cloisonné actually dates back to the Mycenaean and early Greek cultures.  In antiquity, it was common for artists to solder the wires to a metal body and then fill the recessed areas with enamel, a compound made of sand, flint, soda, and lead.  After it is fired in a charcoal-fueled kiln at very high temperatures, the enamel compound fuses and assumes a very glossy, glass-like texture.  The Japanese process varied slightly from this, as I will describe in the next section.

“Cloisons” or wire cells used to create cloisonné.
“Box”, Japan, 19th century, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, The John R. Young Collection, gift of M. Frances and John R. Young

The nomenclature of cloisonné stems from France.  The term cloisonné comes from the French word “cloisons,” or wire cells, which are used to create this technique.  Most of the enameling terms you hear will be of French origin, and that’s likely because the French dominated the enameling practice for about ten centuries.  However, the Japanese use a different term to describe cloisonné: shippōShippō references the seven treasures of the sūtra, a direct correlation to ancient Buddhist texts.  The seven treasures include gold, silver, pearl, crystal, agate, lapis lazuli, and coral.  This definition of cloisonné emphasizes the Japanese affinity with nature and religion, while the French term focuses on the technical aspect of the technique.

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What’s the Process of Cloisonné?

Namikawa Yasuyuki loading an object into the kiln. Image from Coben and Ferster’s “Japanese Cloisonné: History, Technique, and Appreciation.”

As mentioned earlier, in ancient times it was common to solder your copper or silver wires down to a metal base.  The Japanese process differs by adhering the wires to a metal base using a rice-paste or glue made from an orchid root, called biyaku-gu.  After the wires are secure on the base, the artist takes the enamel paste, a mixture of water and enamel, and gently place the paste in the wire cells using a bamboo pen.  After this step, the object must sit to allow all the moisture to evaporate from the enamel.  Once completely dried, the artist delicately places the object into a muffle kiln, or a nishiki-gama, a clay kiln that is fueled by charcoal.  After the enamel has fused, the piece can be taken out to cool.  Once cooled, the artist can go back in and add more enamel paste and fire it until the enamel is flush with the metal wires.  The final step includes sanding and polishing the enamel and wires until an even surface is acquired.  Once sanded and polished, the enameled object goes into the nishiki-gama one last time to bring the enamel to a high gloss.

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How Did Cloisonné Come to Japan?

Prior to the 16th century, very little enamelware was found in Japan.  Even with neighboring China, a society already exemplary in producing cloisonné, did the artform hit Japan until artist Hirata Hikoshiro, better known as Dōnin, was commissioned by a lord to create a cloisonné object.  Dōnin learned the ways of Chinese cloisonné and brought back the secrets of the trade to Japan.  He became well-known in the samurai community for making decorative sword furniture, but kept his cloisonné process to himself, and only let his family know the tricks of the trade.  A century later another Japanese artist, Kaji Tsunekichi, sought the mysteries of cloisonné.  In the mid-1830’s, Tsunekichi purchased a piece of Chinese cloisonné and purposely broke it apart to discover the manufacturer’s secrets.  After a lot of trial and error, he found success and became known as the “Father of Modern Japanese Cloisonné.”  Tsunekichi trained many artists, creating a cloisonné community within Japan.

The Golden Age

Because of the Western desire for Japanese cloisonné, more and more workshops opened up in small communities like Toshima.  Toshima became known as the shippō-mura, or cloisonné village.  The mass production of cloisonné wares in workshops like Toshima were part of the Japanese industrial revolution that occurred during the second half of the 19th century.  Rather than the large, boisterous factories we envision of the American and European industrial revolutions, the cloisonné workshops of Japan remained very traditional and true to the lead artist’s designs.  Alice M. Hart, an American journalist, visited one of these workshops and this is what she found:

“What an ideal, no smoke, no noise, and no hurry.  Engaged in the pursuit of delightful art, the workmen had only to lift their eyes from their work to see cherry blossoms tossed up against a blue sky…”

Japanese cloisonné workshop. Image from Coben and Ferster’s “Japanese Cloisonné: History, Technique, and Appreciation.”

All this production during the late 19th century has been coined as the “Golden Age for Japanese cloisonné.”  The Golden Age was brought on by a whirlwind of technological advances that Japanese artists were initiating.  Three instrumental leaders in the Golden Age are Namikawa Yasuyuki, Namikawa Sōsuke, and Andō Jūbei.

Namikawa Yasuyuki was known for his invention of the first transparent black glaze and his ‘traditional’ style.  This new transparent black enamel led to a whole production of transparent enamels, which provided artists more freedom with the material.  With this new application, Namikawa Sōsuke was able to rise to fame with his “painting-like” enamels.  Sōsuke also became known as the inventor of shōsen-jippō, where he would etch away the cloisonné wires with sulfuric acid to create a more natural transition, rather than the heavy outlines of wires.  Finally, Andō Jūbei brought the ‘new fashion’ to Japanese cloisonné by combining various styles and techniques such as plique-a-jour; a technique where the wires are fused together and there is no metal backing, allowing sunlight to shine through the enamel.  His company, the Andō Company, was very prolific and received several international awards.

Ando Jubei, Koro and Cover, c. 1900, Japan, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, The John R. Young Collection, gift of M. Frances and John R. Young

In the Japanese galleries on the third floor of the Museum, you can find exquisite examples from all three artists.  Many of these works instill both awe and beauty.  Even though I know how these objects were created, I’m still amazed by the amount of detail and craftsmanship involved.  Next time you are at the Museum, come explore these small treasures of Japan—I know you will be impressed by their splendor.

Loryn Leonard
Coordinator of Museum Visits

References:

  • Coben, Lawrence, and Dorothy Ferster, Japanese Cloisonné: History, Technique, and Appreciation, New York: Weatherhill, 1982.
  • Darty, Linda, The Art of Enameling: Techniques, Projects, Inspiration, New York: Lark Books, 2004.

How it's Made: Etruscan Jewelry

Welcome to the introductory blog of the “How it’s Made” series.  In this series, I aim to shed some light on the technical methods of how objects in our collection were created and to gather a greater appreciation for art-making in general. 

Coming from a metalsmithing background, I wanted to start this series with precious  metal objects.  I selected Etruscan jewelry because I have such admiration for how beautifully designed and how well-crafted these metal objects are.  While studying metalsmithing at the University of North Texas, I had the opportunity to learn several of the same techniques the Etruscans used, but with the convenience of modern tools and technology.

Pair of "a bauletto" type earrings, Etruscan, 6th-early 5th centuries B.C., Museum League Purchase Funds, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., and Cecil H. and Ida M. Green in honor of Virginia Lucas Nick

Who were the Etruscans?

Early inhabitants of Italy, the Etruscans settled in the northern region of Rome in the late eighth century B.C., and can trace their heritage by name in modern-day Tuscany.  The Etruscans succeeded the Villanovan culture, a civilization that established early foreign trade and was adept in creating bronze jewelry. The influx of Greek colonization in Italy aided in the transition from Villanovan to Etruscan culture, which thrived until Roman imperialism succeeded around 200 B.C.

 

Etruscan territory

What Makes Etruscan Jewelry Interesting?

Today, it’s no mystery why jewelers love to use gold.  Gold is a very easy metal to work with; it’s malleable (which means it’s easy to shape and form), there is less clean up after soldering, and it doesn’t tarnish over time.  So, why is Etruscan gold so amazing?  This ancient civilization manipulated metals and implemented tedious applications without the modern convenience of a torch and other fancy tools is pretty incredible.  It amazes me that such delicate pieces could be fused together by controlling an open flame instead of a pressure-controlled torch. 

Take granulation, for example.  Granulation derives from the Latin word granum, meaning “grain,” and it describes the method of fusing small granules to a base.  This ancient technique is a hallmark of Etruscan jewelry and requires a lot of meticulous preparation. 

Pair of Funerary Earrings, Etruscan, 4th-3rd Century B.C., gift of Mr. and Mrs. Cecil H. Green

In order to make the granules, Etruscans would place gold dust or very small clippings of metal into a crucible.  In order to keep the granules from clumping together and melting into one giant granule, they placed layers of charcoal between the clippings, and then heated them to their melting point.  At that point, the metal dust or clipping will roll itself into a little ball and create a granule.

Modern granulation technique, courtesy of "The Complete Metalsmith" by Tim McCreight

Modern granulation technique, courtesy of "The Complete Metalsmith" by Tim McCreight

Once you have your tiny granules, you have to then position them and fuse them to a base.  Today, metalsmiths use ready-made flux and solder to join granules on a base.  According to Jochem Wolters in his essay “The Ancient Craft of Granulation: A Re-Assessment of Established Concepts,” adhesive non-metallic solders such as the gem chrysokolla (which literally translates to “gold glue”) or any other copper-bearing compounds were the solder of choice for the Etruscans. 

Chrysokolla, a gem used for non-metallic solder

If you’ve never soldered before, and you’re having a hard time visualizing this, think of a peanut butter sandwich.  You have two surfaces that need to be fused together.  Think of the base and the granule as the two slices of bread, and the solder as the peanut butter; without it, the two surfaces cannot fuse.  Once you have your solder and granules in place, you place your object over an open charcoal fire and heat it evenly.  Amazing!

It’s important to note that the Etruscans didn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of metalsmithing techniques, for many of the methods they are recognized for (such as granulation, filigree, chasing, and repoussé) were borrowed from neighboring cultures.  The true reason Etruscan jewelry stands out is because of the ancient metalsmiths’ technical skill and amazing ability to manipulate gold with precision.  I can attest that even with modern tools, it is difficult to execute many of the techniques that were used in the 6th and 7th centuries B.C. 

I hope you find Etruscan jewelry as riveting as I do, and if you have any questions about other works from our collection, please feel free to post your questions in the comments area. 

Happy making,

Loryn Leonard
Coordinator of Museum Visits

Resources:

  • Barbara Deppert-Lippitz, Ancient Gold Jewelry at the Dallas Museum of Art, (Washington: University of Washington 1996), 31-57. 
  • Tim McCreight, The Complete Metalsmith: Professional Edition, (Davis Publications: February 2004).
  • Jochem Wolters,”The Ancient Craft of Granulation: A Re-Assessment of Established Concepts,” Gold Bulletin, Vol. 14, Number 3, 119-129. 

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