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Fine & Decorative Art

Cloisonne Snuff Bottle

Cloisonne Snuff Bottles
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Cloisonne Snuff Bottle

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Chinese cloisonné snuff bottle. These two snuff bottles date to the early 20th century. They are of exceptional quality, in the cloisonné technique of glass paste fired and fused between metal wires. Cloisonné is sometimes confused with champleve. In champleve the enamel is deposited in carved cells rather than between metal wires.

The snuff bottle on the left shows an ox sleeping beneath a tree listening to music, a traditional Buddhist theme of enlightenment signifying the pure sounds of music capturing the essence of life. The bottle on the right is in the scholar’s pattern, depicting the traditional accessories of the Confucian scholar’s desk.

While evidence exists that cloisonné was produced as early as the 14th century, the perfection of the art form was reached in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In the 19th and 20th centuries large quantities of varying quality were produced for export.

Large scale production of cloisonné also occurred in Japan, but did not begin in earnest until 1830. Japan was opened to the world in the mid 19th century. In the new Meiji period Japanese cloisonné became widely collected. Although beginning late, the Japanese produced masterworks in a new style that emphasized large open grounds of flat color and asymmetrical designs. The Japanese also produced wireless cloisonné in which the wire work used to create the cells was concealed.

A related style of pottery, termed Fahua in modern times, developed along parallel lines to cloisonné and in a similar time frame. Cells on the pottery held colored glazes. The cells were created either by building up thin walls of clay, or by inscribing the clay. Ming examples tend to be large with a horizontal emphasis to the design. In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) smaller pieces were produced. Designs became more vertical, such as flowers rising from the bottom of a vase.