Among the many art forms to reach China via trade routes established in the Song and Yuan Dynasties, few evolved so slowly and steadily to become a celebrated, essential staple of Chinese craftsmanship as cloisonné. Though the term by which Americans and Europeans know the technique of decorating surfaces with shades of vitreous enamel speaks of the thin metal partitions, or “cloison”, used to separate the colors, the Chinese associate this art form with the period when it first rose to prominence during the Ming Dynasty. In Chinese, cloisonné is called “Jingtailan”, literally “Jingtai blue”. In no period since the 15th century has traditional Chinese cloisonné abandoned blue as the background color to its elaborate archaistic, floral and figural designs. “Jingtai” refers to the period of the Jingtai Emperor (1450-1456). Though one of the shortest reigns of the Ming Dynasty, it was in the Jingtai period that greatest and most emblematic examples of fine Chinese cloisonné were first produced.
Featured in Freeman’s September 10, 2016 Asian Arts auction is a fine, complete and exceptionally rare cloisonné and gilt bronze square-form censer (Lot 80). The applied cloisonné enamel to the walls, handles and legs demonstrate the traditional Ming style, incorporating vividly-colored archaistic motifs against the indispensable “Jingtailan” blue ground. On the censer’s base is seen a six-character “Da Ming Jingtai Nian Zhi” reign mark, “Made in the period of the Great Ming (Emperor) Jingtai”. Like the emperor’s name becoming synonymous with cloisonné, so too was his mark incorporated into imperial cloisonné works of art throughout the Ming Dynasty and beyond. Several successors had replaced Jingtai on the Chinese throne when this censer was made some time in the 16th century, but the mark is not meant to deceive. On the contrary, it stands as a tribute to the emperor who lent his name to one of the great Chinese art forms and to honor a work of art worthy of being associated with cloisonné’s first golden age.
To be offered 09/10/16: Lot 80. A Chinese Archaistic Cloisonné Enamel Censer and Cover, Fang Ding, Jingtai six-character mark, 16th century. Property from a Philadelphia Estate. Estimate $10,000-15,000.