1. When cloisonne was brown.

Search the web for images of “Japanese Cloisonne” (七宝) and you will find a host of marvellous images. You will see vases produced by famous artists such as Namikawa Sosuke (濤川惣助) and Namikawa Yasuyuki (並河靖之) that are full of breathtaking detail and colour. They attract huge prices that still seem too low for the level of artistry and craftmanship involved in their manufacture.

The production of Cloisonne however was first of all an industry, powered by workshops that turned out affordable work for export, with the cities of Nagoya (名古屋) and Kyoto (京​都) at its heart in the second half of the 19th century. This site is for the lesser, often earlier works that still deserve attention. Each blog entry relates to one object, starting with the following:

Object 1. This has three legs and is probably missing its lid. Perhaps a ‘ginger jar’ or a censer/kouro (香炉). It is a simple item but has wonderful detail. Nevertheless it is not fashionable to collect, certainly not in the UK. Maybe it is our lack of sunshine and dark household interiors that mean the colours do not light up.

They still contain quite a level of detail though. Here are two butterflies (蝶) from the same pot. Each is surrounded by smaller ones in a slightly different arrangement. Zoom in a little and we can see the way they are constructed.

The wires that form the shape and contain the enamel are near identical, so presumably they are mass produced ready to go onto the pot. The enamel itself is well behaved in the larger area but the light blue escapes through the gaps in the central figure of eight.

Even this first simple item contains hundreds of tiny features, each needing care and attention to create, and each done by hand. It may have been mass produced but it still took craftspeople of tremendous skill.

Object 1. Jar height 10cm, weight 232gm.

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