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Chinese Cloisonné Candlestick (part of a set of five altar objects)

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China Anonymous, Chinese
Chinese Cloisonné Candlestick (part of a set of five altar objects), c. 1850
Enamel on Bronze
14 1/2 in. x 6 3/8 in. x 6 3/8 in. (36.83 cm x 16.19 cm x 16.19 cm)

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

"00.1547" written on the interior of the base; no other marks.

Multicolored enamels and mother-of-pearl inlays on gilded bronze.

Object Description
Chinese cloisonné pricket candlestick with six-lobed bell-shaped base with one large and one small six-lobed drip pan. The bronze body has been cast or hammered to produce sunken cells into which the enamel and mother-of-pearl 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 is sometimes left below the level of the cell or 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. The edges are chased in a key-fret border and the interior of the small drip pan is enameled in turquoise blue.

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

One of the candlesticks from this set is featured on page 60 of Ogita and Petterson’s Asian Cloisonne Enamels (1975). They write: “The Chinese ceremonial candle, supported by a candlestick such as this one, has a large wick made of a hollow reed which has been wrapped with cotton string. The candlestick holds this candle very securely by means of its ice-pick-like ‘pricket,’ onto which the wick is forced. The hollow stem is strong, and just the right size to fit perfectly over the pricket stem.”

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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