Cloisonne, in which China excels, is known as jingtailan in the country. It first appeared toward the end of the Yuan Dynasty in the mid-14th century, flourished and reached its peak of development during the reign of the Ming emperor Jingtai (1450-1457). And as the objects were mostly in blue (lan) colour, cloisonne came to be called by its present name jingtailan.

A jingtailan article has a copper body. The design on it is formed by copper wire stuck on with a vegetable glue. Coloured enamel is filled in with different colours kept apart by the wire strips. After being fired four or five times in a kiln, the workpiece is polished and gilded into a colourful and lustrous work of art.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), cloisonneware was mainly supplied for use in the imperial palace, in the form of incense-burners, vases, jars, boxes and candlesticks - all in imitation of antique porcelain and bronze.

Present-day production, with Beijing as the leading centre, stresses the adding of ornamental beauty to things that are useful. The artifacts include vases, plates, jars, boxes, tea sets, lamps, lanterns, tables, stools, drinking vessels and small articles for the desk.

A pair of big cloisonne horses have been made in recent years, each measuring 2.1 metres high and 2.4 metres long, and weighing about 700 kilograms. They took eight months to finish, involving the labour of hundreds of workers and 60 tons of coal for the firing. They represent the largest object ever made in cloisonne in the 500 years since the art was born.

Cloisonne ware bears on the surface vitreous enamal which, like porcelain, is hard but brittle, so it must not be knocked against anything hard. To remove dust from it, it should be whisked lightly with a soft cloth. Avoid heavy wiping with a wet cloth, for this might eventually wear off the gilding.

Cloisonne enamel incense burner with rope-shaped ears decorated with grape design

Early Ming Dynasty

Overall height: 11cm

Diameter of mouth: 12.8cm

Spacing between feet: 8cm

Cloisonne enamel vase with Kui-dragon design and two hydras inlay

Late Ming Dynasty

Height: 24.3cm

Diameter of mouth: 5.7cm

Diameter of foot: 7.8cm

Cloisonne enamel lion-shaped censer

Late Ming Dynasty

Height: 26.7cm

Cloisonne enamel flask with brocade design

Qianlong period, Qing Dynasty

Height: 12.5cm

Diameter of mouth: 3.8cm

Diameter of foot: 8/4.3cm

Cloisonne enamel gold-bodied ewer inlaid with painted enamel design of ladies within reserved panels

Qianlong period, Qing Dynasty

Overall height: 39cm

Width: 28cm

Cloisonne enamel You(tankard) with loop handle decorated with animal mask motif

Middle Ming Dynasty

Overall height: 32cm

Diameter of mouth: 11/8.7cm