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Pair of Japanese Cloisonné Plique a Jour Vases

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Japan Anonymous, Japanese
Pair of Japanese Cloisonné Plique a Jour Vases, early 20th c.
Enamel on Brass
4 3/4 in. x 2 1/8 in. x 2 1/8 in. (12.07 cm x 5.4 cm x 5.4 cm)

Object Type: Cloisonné
Technique: Cloisonné
Creation Place: Asia, Japan
Credit Line: Gift of Douglas and Pamela Routh
Accession Number: 2002.9.59 a, b

Here are a pair of small cloisonné enamel vases dating to the early 20th century. In this complex decorative technique, slender metal wires are attached to a bronze or copper vessel to form enclosures, or "cloisons," which form the outlines of patterns, sometimes geometric but often floral. The enclosures are filled with colored powdered enamels and then fired to melt the enamels into a glass-like finish. The Japanese probably began making cloisonné enamels, or "shippo" in Japanese, in the late 17th or early 18th century. By the end of the 19th century, this style of decorative metalwork was one of Japan’s most admired art forms for export to the West. From 1880 to 1910, Japanese cloisonné reached a golden age of design and technique, when many superb pieces were made for display at the great world exhibitions. This pair are just over four inches in height but they feature the exceptional craftsmanship of this period. The contrast between the deep black ground and the white of the iris flowers is particularly striking, suggesting that we are viewing these elegant flowers by the light of the moon.
Early summer night,
Dreaming of white irises
As the crickets sing.

Meher McArthur, Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Curator of Academic Programs and Collections

This pair of plique-à-jour vases splendidly demonstrates the height of Japanese cloisonné work. The wires, which separate cells of tin white, create distinct contours throughout the natural subject matter and heighten a sense of depth already created by the profound opacity of the saturated cobalt field upon which they are placed. These commonly natural forms, identified as white and purple iris flowers, starkly stand out against this saturated background, and in their minimalist isolation, these stylized yet naturalistic flowers evoke sensations of serene solitude and leave the viewer in a state of solemn calm.

Lance Bird (student, 2016)

There are no markings on either vase.

Multicolored enamels on a cobalt enamel ground, with a cast brass base.

Object Description
Pair of small Japanese cloisonée vases, with white and purple iris flowers against a cobalt ground.

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