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Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Ashmolean − Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Meiji Arts trail

Japanese spirit, Western technology; explore the changing styles and techniques of Meiji decorative arts.

Detail from Satsuma-style bowl with flowers and butterflies, Japan, c. 1900 (Museum number: EA1967.23)
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Cloisonné enamel

Unlike other crafts that flourished during the Meiji period, the art of cloisonné enamelling was not already widespread in Japan during the Edo period. The making of larger, three-dimensional objects only began from the 1830s.

Development of cloisonné

The craft developed slowly at first and until the 1870s the colours were poor and the execution crude. During the Meiji period, however, technological innovations from the West vastly improved the standard of work and cloisonné became a popular export item.

Cloisonné enamel is made by fusing powdered glass onto a copper or other metal body. The colours are separated using strips of metal, called cloisons, which outline the picture or pattern to be formed. Repeated firing in a kiln and a long polishing process were required to obtain the smooth surface characteristic of the finest cloisonné.

Circular jarlet with flowers and butterflies (EA1993.39) Circular jarlet with flowers and butterflies (EA1993.39)   Tobacco jar and stand with butterflies and flowers (EA1995.151) Tobacco jar and stand with butterflies and flowers (EA1995.151)   Incense burner, or kōro, with an entrance gate amid trees (EA2000.180) Incense burner, or kōro, with an entrance gate amid trees (EA2000.180)

Namikawa Yasuyuki (1845-1927)

There were two significant enamellers working in Japan at this time; Namikawa Yasuyuki and Namikawa Sōsuke. Both were appointed as Imperial Craftsmen but employed quite different styles and techniques. Namikawa Yasuyuki (1845-1927) was skilled at using wire to create detailed pictures and patterns, and at covering large areas with a flawless, opaque enamel in a single colour.

Baluster vase with wisteria and birds (EA1988.1) Baluster vase with wisteria and birds (EA1988.1)   Vase with chrysanthemums and a butterfly (EA2000.48) Vase with chrysanthemums and a butterfly (EA2000.48)   Vase with waterfall over rocks (EA2002.177) Vase with waterfall over rocks (EA2002.177)

Namikawa Sōsuke (1847-1910)

In contrast, Namikawa Sōsuke (1847-1910) focused more on the creating the look of painted decoration by hiding or removing the cloisons. He collaborated with artists by recreating their painted pictures in enamel and in these cases the image often has the signature of the painter, and the object itself has  Namikawa Sōsuke's seal.

Tray with two sparrows on a branch (EA2000.50) Tray with two sparrows on a branch (EA2000.50)

Innovative techniques

From about 1900, new techniques were incorporated into Japanese cloisonné enamel work. Moriage is a method of building up the wire cloisons to create raised, three-dimensional areas of detail in the deecoration. Another technique, plique-a-jour, involved the removal of the metal body onto which the cloisonné enamel had been applied leaving an extremely fragile piece consisting of only the cloisons and transparent enamel. This was first invented in France and introduced to Japanese enamellers at the Paris Exposition in 1900.

Baluster vase with chrysanthemums and a butterfly (EA1998.214) Baluster vase with chrysanthemums and a butterfly (EA1998.214)   Vase with dragon amid waves (EA1999.104) Vase with dragon amid waves (EA1999.104)   Baluster vase with chrysanthemums (EA1990.5) Baluster vase with chrysanthemums (EA1990.5)

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