Beijing cloisonne enamel, or "Lan Jintao" is one of the treasures of traditional Chinese culture. It has always been a sign of wealth and high social status. It could be found in a Chinese emperors' palace or in the temples only due to its high price.
Today we will visit an enamel factory located in the suburbs of Beijing and see how these unique products are being created now.
Cloisonne enamel art originated from ancient Egypt. Later it spreads to Byzantium and the Middle East. The technique came to China from Turkey and got perfected in 1271-1368.
The name "Jintao Lan" translates as "Lazur Jintao" due to the fact that mass production of enameled goods was established during the reign of Jingtang (1450-1456). The main color at that time was blue (lazur).
Beijing enamel technique got the most development as the Beijing Imperial "Forbidden City" was the main venue for the use of these products. Only the emperor family and people from high society could afford the enamel products until the 20th century. China has factories now that make the process cheaper than ever. The enamel goods are still not cheap, but they are a lot more affordable. All pieces are still handmade and unique.
The first stage is to forge a basic shape out of a thin sheet of copper or brass (or silver, or even gold for the most expensive products)
After that, the product passes the initial grinding to remove all burrs.
Then a complicated pattern is being applied.
Then we need to glue very thin walls (cloisonne) following the pattern onto the pieces we are working on. The cloisonne is made of thin copper or brass flat wire with the width from 1 to 3 mm.
Cloisonne is attached by a special mixture of glue and flux.
Each piece has hundreds cloisonne wires attached to it!
Can you imagine how much patience the workers have?
Cloisonne is attached. Now we cover the whole surface with silver solder...
Then we place the piece in a kiln. The adhesive is burned away in the firing process and the solder is uniformly distributed over the surface securely fixing the wires.
Now it is time for coloring. This operation is also done by hand.
Each cell enclosed by cloisonne is filed with enamel (which is powdered glass mixed with various minerals to give it color).
You cannot mix enamels to create a new color. This is achieved by applying different colors to the same cell with firing of each color separately. The more complex the design and the more colors it has, the longer it takes to accomplish the piece. The process of "coloring" may take up to 6-8 hours.
Enamel shrinks during firing, so it needs to be applied a few times until it fills up the cells.
|The craftsman is inspecting the pieces. They are almost ready!|
After the firing is completed we need to polish all items to make them all nice and smooth.
Silicon carbide (SiC) with water is used for the first polishing stage and coal dust mixed with oil for the second stage.
Metal free of enamel is sometimes plated with precious metal (silver or gold).
After the final polishing all the pieces are placed in a factory store.
The most usual ornament of "Jintao Lan" enamel is naturalistic images of animals and birds.
Tourists take many pictures. Nobody can resist buying at least something here!
|This vase is about $15000.00. The Emperor palace quality! :)|
Translated by Natalia Khon