Chinese cloisonné: just decorative or also art?

Ming dynasty (1450-1550) touhu (or arrow) vase

Here’s the ultimate decorative arts medium — cloisonné — and new evidence that Ming Chinese scholar-artists might have prized it the way they did their craggy scholar’s rocks and understated ink paintings. The Economist has a great review of a show of cloisonné at the Bard Graduate Center; I also reviewed it in the Wall Street Journal.

Qing dynasty basin from the Brooklyn Museum

The rare white cloisonné basin to the left was used for Buddhist rituals — if you could look inside it, you would see that the wires trace the outline of Buddhist symbols.  The vase on the right with its fiery lotus flowers reminiscent of Tibetan paintings is a small copy of an ancient form.  The story is that ancient warriors would take a break and play a game of toss-the-arrow, using an empty wine jug.  I like to picture Ming scholars and rulers tossing ink brushes into the touhu rather than just displaying them on their desks as objets d’art.

2 thoughts on “Chinese cloisonné: just decorative or also art?

  1. Fascinating to find an art form (yes, art) that is so little-studied that dating is still an issue. One could, if one’s mind worked that way, create a little taxonomy of scholarship in which dating is the most elementary step, followed perhaps by attribution, then ultimately leading to interpretation…. what am I missing?

  2. dating, geographical location, perhaps patronage along with attribution, interpretation…. I’d also love to see in there something of the life of the object itself — devotional statue, war trophy, ethnographic specimen later transformed into museum art object… In the case of non-Western art there is also a step in there in which authorship is recognized. There has a been an interesting (and welcome) shift in labeling in recent years from “anonymous” to “unknown artist.” Mere semantics? You bet. Because what words mean matters.

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