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Chinese Cloisonné "Fangzun"-Shaped Object

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China Anonymous, Chinese
Chinese Cloisonné "Fangzun"-Shaped Object, 18th c.
Enamel on Bronze
9 in. x 4 5/8 in. x 4 5/8 in. (22.86 cm x 11.75 cm x 11.75 cm)

Object Type: Cloisonné
Technique: Cloisonné
Creation Place: Asia, China
Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Dorothy Adler Routh
Accession Number: 73.3.3b

Full Title: Chinese Cloisonné "Fangzun"-Shaped Object (part of a set of five altar objects)

No marks.

Multicolored enamels on gilded bronze.

Object Description
Heavily cast gilded beaker of rectangular section known as fangzun, decorated on the sides with scrolling lotuses in opaque enamels of cobalt and turquoise blue between ruyi head borders along the rim and base, with a chased key-fret pattern at the flared head and foot. There is an applied gilt rim and base-plate.

The bronze body has been cast or hammered to produce sunken cells into which the enamel was filled to create a design of scrolling lotuses. Unlike the smooth, polished finish of most Chinese cloisonné, the gilt ground has been left unenamelled and the enamel in the sunken cells has been built up to rise above the cell walls. This raised effect uses colored enamels to imitate works set with semi-precious stones, such as lapis lazuli or turquoise.

This fangzun beaker is one of a pair of beakers in a five-piece altar set that also includes a central incense burner and a pair of pricket candlesticks (73.3.3a,c-e).

Additional Commentary: In Asian Cloisonne Enamels (1975), Tomoo Ogita and Richard Petterson identify this altar set’s enameling technique as “openwork,” explaining, “There is no hand-hammered bas-relief here; the base metal surface is flat and even. Whatever dimensionality there is has come from the raised pattern of the cloison wires and the enamel within selected cloison areas.” This author, however, disputes the applicability of “openwork” as an appropriate descriptor. Firstly, an examination of the interior of these altar pieces reveals that the body has been cast or hammered in relief to produce sunken cells. Secondly, the term “openwork” is already in usage to describe objects with lattice-like openings in the body, such as the incense burner’s lid, which allows the incense smoke to waft outwards.

Sources: Ogita, Tomoo and Richard Petterson. Asian Cloisonné Enamels. Claremont, CA: Dorothy Adler Routh Publications, 1975.

Brinker, Helmut and Albert Lutz. Chinese Cloisonné: The Pierre Uldry Collection. Trans. Susanna Swoboda. New York: The Asia Society Galleries, 1989.

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