A small four-sided cloisonné-enamelled and gilt-bronze vase, cong Ming dynasty, incised Jingtai four-character mark
Lot 384
A small four-sided cloisonné-enamelled and gilt-bronze vase, cong
Ming dynasty, incised Jingtai four-character mark
Sold for HK$ 75,000 (US$ 9,555) inc. premium


28 Nov 2011, 15:00 HKT

Hong Kong, Admiralty

Lot Details
Cloisonné enamel from the Reid family collection (lots 384-414)
A small four-sided cloisonné-enamelled and gilt-bronze vase, cong Ming dynasty, incised Jingtai four-character mark
A small four-sided cloisonné-enamelled and gilt-bronze vase, cong
Ming dynasty, incised Jingtai four-character mark
Raised on a splayed foot, the gilded body with straight sides lightly lobed, rising to a trumpet neck, the lipped rim with a utensil holder, each side with a panel featuring two stylised lotus blossoms amongst leafy scrolls, all enamelled in various colours of blue, purple, yellow and red on brilliant turquoise ground.
12.6cm high.


  • 明 銅胎掐絲琺瑯蓮花紋琮 陰刻「景泰年製」楷書款

    Provenance 來源:
    Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, 1947.

    Illustrated 出版:
    Canadian Antiques Collector. A Journal of Antiques and Fine Arts. 9th Annual Edition, June 1970, p.12, fig.1.

    Oriental Cloisonné Enamels by Alex Reid, June 1970

    It started with the London Blitz! A bomb! Broken bric-a-brac! Two fairly modern cloisonné plates in replacement. So began an interest that led to the collection owned by the author and his wife which now consists of over forty cloisonné enamels of which eighteen most probably are attributable to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In addition there is an allied collection mainly made up of monochrome porcelains.

    As cloisonné was at that time somewhat the Cinderella of Chinese Art, it was possible to start a collection on a modest budget. Needless to say, as knowledge of the subject grew, several of the earliest acquisitions were discarded. There was little written on the subject and much of it was out of date but good antique dealers and museum staffs were only too wiling to assist, from giving information on the nature of cloisonné to discussing shapes, types of enamels etc. and, most important, allowing examples to be handled.

    Broadly speaking, a pattern made of cells of cloisons formed by wires is affixed to a metal base and filled with a hard vitreous material of various colours. As it is usual to think of this as an Oriental craft, it came as a surprise to find that the art had European origins and was probably not introduced into China until the Yuan dynasty (1280-1368) with the earliest fully authenticated pieces of true cloisonné belonging to the early 15th century. Though various accounts have made much of a cloisonné backed mirror in the Shoso-in at Nara in Japan, where everything was believed to have been deposited in the 8th century, it has been established that some items in the south section, where this was found, were added later as this part was not under Imperial edict. Estimates of the mirror's date range from the 8th to the 17th century with a divergence of opinion as to whether it is of Chinese or Japanese origin. It is generally accepted that the art was not practised in Japan until some centuries later than in China.

    Meanwhile the first pangs of the birth of a collector had commenced. Near his home the author found some pieces, subsequently discarded, together with a dish (current lot 391) – actually the base of a pricket candlestick with the spike removed – (figure 1 right) which was priced at 7/6 (about $1) as "it looked so crude". This is probably a mid 16th century item.

    This led shortly afterwards to the purchase of the first piece from an (real) antique dealer. It was the meiping vase (see current lot 386) in figure 3 which stands 5.7 inches high and may belong to the late 15th century. This is in many ways typical of Ming designs and colours. Designs are virile but simple with only small areas of enamel unsupported by wires. The basic colour is turquoise with lesser areas of brick red, deep green, medium yellow, cobalt blue and a slightly muddy white. There is also a small amount of "Ming pink" made up of a coarsely speckled mixture of red and white enamel. This was the forerunner of the "mixed enamels" which subsequently led in the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) into the use of a far wider range of colours. The excellent technical control of colour and finish – the enamels became less and less pitted and tended to lose an earlier soapy feel – also brought about a steady loss of boldness of design and a somewhat mechanical perfection.

    An especially handsome bowl (current lot 388) belonging to the mid 16th century (8.9 inches in diameter) has Buddhist lions rampaging around the outside (figure 5) with inside decoration (figure 1 top centre) of mandarin ducks in a circular panel and galloping horses (as also on the Qing dynasty bowl with bamboo shaped handles, rims and feet (figure 2 centre). Human figures very seldom enter into Ming enamels but a further part of the animal kingdom, real and mythical, is shown on the four-sided mid 17th century jar (14.5 inches high) shown as figure 4, which is one of the pieces bought in Victoria since the author's residence there. Here are horses, phoenixes and, inside the neck, the squirrel and grapes design. On a fine incense burner in the collection parrots are also added to the menagerie as well as cranes on the pricket candlestick base and on the lid of the circular box in the lower centre of figure 1. There are also dragons on a number of other pieces including the incense burner and the Ming moon vase, or pilgrim bottle (current lot 389), in figure 2.

    In addition to designs which were predominantly animal or floral there are various symbols such as the Eight Buddhist Emblems on the Ming bowl (current lot 390) in the lower right of figure 2 as well as the taotie, or glutton, mask ying-yang and shou characters found elsewhere in the collection.

    Several items bear a Jingtai date (1450-1456) and the Chinese often called cloisonné Jingtailan, as this was when in later years the art was reputed to be at its peak. This particular nianhao, or reign mark, is of comparatively frequent occurrence and is strongly suspect. Often such marks were added later than the manufacture of the piece by means of incised characters or the addition of a false base. It does not follow, however, that anything so marked may not belong to the Ming dynasty.

    In attempting to date pieces it is often of great help to compare shapes and designs with porcelains of a similar period. Colours of enamels were also important. For instance, though in the Qing dynasty a number of copies of Ming enamels were made, a small trace of rose pink enamel, derived from gold as in the famille rose family of porcelains, were often introduced. This is a sure sign of later dating. Also the wires used to form the cloisons in the later period were almost invariably made of copper drawn through a die rather than beaten our of a sheet bronze and therefore do not contain the split centres recently noted in the earlier examples by Sir Harry Garner.

    As for the collection, the other small pieces shown in figure 1 are Ming except, for the belt hook (current lot 411) (right centre) which is probably of the Qianlong dynasty (1736-1795). In figure 2, the dish (current lot 393) is Ming while the round box (current lot 400) (diameter 6.5 inches) with the spiked knob bears a Qianlong nianhao. The small round box (current lot 410) in the lower centre is 19th century as is the hexagonal bowl with scenic panels (lower left centre) which is Japanese or possibly Chinese made for export to the Japanese market. Unillustrated, the author also possesses several boxes, bowls, beakers and a large jar.

    Such is a collection made up of examples of Oriental cloisonné enamels varying from 2 to 24 inches in height, most of which are of medium size. This was largely acquired on a shoestring though, at the time of purchase, a reasonable price was paid for the more major items. The amount of pleasure which has been obtained both in seeking them and then having beautiful objects displayed all around the home has been out of all proportion to the monetary cost.
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  1. Xibo Wang
    Specialist - Chinese Works of Art
    Hong Kong
    Hong Kong
    Work +852 3607 0010
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