Exhibit Information

Bard Graduate Center Gallery

Address 18 West 86th Street
New York, NY 10024
Click here for quick directions
Phone Number 212-501-3000

Website http://www.bgc.bard.edu/


Opening: 26 JANUARY 2011 - Closing: 17 APRIL 2011

CLOISONNÉ: Chinese Enamels from the Yuan, Ming, & Qing Dynasties


[26 January through 17 April 2011]


The intricacy of the delicate enamel-decorations on Cloisonné Vessels & Ritual-Objects—of often-remarkable forms—make this small-scale exhibition a marvel.


Rather than attempt to describe some of these, Your Arts-Reporter will use the Miracle of the Internet to show them!


The Enamels of Limoges—some are on display in the Frick-Collection—are perhaps better-known than the Cloisonnés that were developed over the centuries in Imperial-China. But they feature Western Religious, Political, & Social images, unlike their Chinese counterparts.


Cloisonné—as a sample-kit in this show demonstrates—was created by initially inscribing intricate designs on a metal object, such as a vase or box. These were then outlined with thin metal cells, attached to the surfaces.


Into each cell was delicately deposited powdered-colored-enamels, which were then fired to fix them permanently in place, followed by polishing. The final objects often looked as if semi-precious stones had been used, instead of enamel-powders.


The Cloisonné Enamel-Technique was probably introduced into China during the Mongol Yuan Dynasty [1279–1368].


Although the earliest surviving Chinese Cloisonné-pieces bearing a reign-mark were made during the Xuande period [1426–1436], the exhibition will include a few pieces that introduce a new attribution from the late Yuan & early Ming Dynasties.


This controversial attribution—recently documented by specialists & curators from the Palace-Museum, Beijing, is a major contribution to Cloisonné-scholarship.


Several factors—ranging from the unreliability of reign-marks, to a dearth of information about Chinese-workshops—make it very difficult to date Cloisonné-works with accuracy.


For that reason, three aspects of Chinese Cloisonné-production have been selected as guidelines for the exhibition: Decoration, Form, & Intended-Function.


These interlock because an object’s Decoration & Form tend to indicate the Purpose for which it was intended: Ritual, Decorative, or Utilitarian.


The Motifs that occur most often are considered in all their various meanings—within the context of the period during which the objects were produced.


The exhibition attempts to answer such questions as how, why, & for whom these enamels were produced, & how attitudes toward this technique changed during the Ming & Qing Dynasties.


In 1368—after the Chinese had reclaimed power from the Mongol "barbarians” & founded the Ming Dynasty—Cao Zhao wrote Essential Criteria of Antiquities, a guide for collectors of "antiquities,” in which he made it clear that Cloisonné-enamels originating in the Frankish-Lands were not suitable for study by members of the Scholar-Class. [Bye-bye, Limoges!]


Their gilded-surfaces & brilliant-colors put them at odds with the austere-criteria of the Scholars’-Aesthetic, inherited from the Song Dynasty [960–1279], which the Ming revived after the humiliation of the Mongol-Invasion.


This Classical-Chinese-Aesthetic is exemplified by ink-wash-paintings & by ceramics with sparse—or no—decoration: in which Form & Surface enhance each other.


According to Cao Zhao, Cloisonné-enamels were really appropriate only for the Apartments of Women. But, in the same period, Cloisonné-pieces were being commissioned for the Court.


From the late Yuan Dynasty to the early Ming Dynasty, Buddhist-Temples were the primary-patrons—or intended-recipients—of Cloisonné. The Lotus-Flower—a Buddhist Symbol of Purity—is the motif most often found on Chinese enamels.


In the late 14th-century & the 15th-century, the schematic-scrolling-lotus-designs of Buddhist-Origin were joined by more naturalistic depictions of flowers & fruit: Chrysanthemums, Grapes, Camellias, Hibiscus, Peonies, & Lotuses—which were often used as Symbols of the Four-Seasons.


Archaic forms were now supplemented by other, newer forms deemed appropriate for use in domestic-rituals & at the tables of the Scholar-Class.


Objects from the reign of the Jiajing-Emperor [1522–66] display forms & decoration specifically characteristic of this period. The presence of the character for Longevity [shou] & depictions of Cranes in the Clouds indicate that an object was intended for Taoist Ritual-Usages.


Other pieces combine Buddhist, Taoist, & even Confucian decorative-motifs. In addition, this period saw a diversification of themes & motifs, including two Mandarin-Ducks, a Carp in a pool, & Seahorses, among others.


During the second half of the 16th-century—in the reign of the Wanli-Emperor [1573–1620]—there was a marked increase in enamel-production, as well as a decline in craftsmanship. This trend would continue through the late Ming & early Qing Dynasties.


Under the Kangxi-Emperor [1662–1722]—the first ruler of the Manchu Qing Dynasty—significant decorative-arts production resumed. Imperial-Workshops were established within the Forbidden City.


The last sixty years of the 18th-century—the reign of the Qianlong-Emperor [1736–95]—were marked by a growing interest in the arts & the decorative-arts in particular. Advances in Cloisonné-technique & additions to the Palette of Enamels fostered an unprecedented-increase in Cloisonné-production.


The Manchus—fervent followers of Tantric-Buddhism—commissioned many Ritual-Objects for Buddhist-Temples. There also were commissions for the Imperial-Palaces & private-residences.


The influence of the Qianlong-Reign remained strong through the first half of the 19th-century but was accompanied by a decline in Workmanship & Aesthetic-Quality.


During the reign of the Guangxu-Emperor [1875–1908], a renewal of production was sparked by widespread Western interest in the technique, as a result of Chinese participation in International-Exhibitions.


Equally important political-events, such as the Sack of the Summer-Palace during the Second Opium-War, in 1860, by British & French troops, prompted a rediscovery of Cloisonné in Europe, especially in France.


Illustrating the impact of these various influences & the renewal of the technique in late 19th-century France, are the Cloisonné-enamels produced by Ferdinand Barbédienne & James Tissot.


This colorful exhibition—a collaboration between the BGC & Les Arts Décoratifs-Musée des Arts-décoratifs in Paris—is the first in the US to show Masterpieces of Cloisonné from this renowned French-Collection.


These loans are supplemented with objects from the Brooklyn Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Phoenix Art Museum, & the Springfield Museums in Massachusetts.

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