Kyoto Cloisonné

By Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University

Cloisonné Vase with Chrysanthemum Design (Detail), Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum Collection by Namikawa Yasuyuki(1845-1927) and Photo by Kimura YouichiOriginal Source: Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum

Kyoto Shippō (cloisonné enamel ware) was born in the Momoyama period. Although the enameling technique was used to make the sliding-door handles and decorative nail covers of the Katsura Rikyū Imperial Villa in Kyoto constructed in early Edo period, the technique was not widely known at the time. It was not until the Meiji period that shippō became regularly produced. It is said that the technique known as yūsen-shippō (wire cloisonné enamel) which adorns the entire surface of vases or incense burners was introduced during the Tenpō era in the latter half of the Edo period. Kaji Tsunekichi (1803-1883), son of a feudal retainer of Owari Domain took a Dutch wire enamel vessel apart to understand the technique, thus leading to the beginning of wire cloisonné enameling in Japan. 

Gourd-shape vase with butterflies, Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum Collection by Namikawa Yasuyuki (1845-1927), photo by Kimura YouichiOriginal Source: Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum

The wire cloisonné enamel technique developed in Owari was introduced to Kyoto at the start of the Meiji period. At the time this enameling technique was called doro-shippō (muddy cloisonné enamel), as opaque glaze was used. Through the refining of the glaze, the enamel developed into one that gave beautiful brilliance after the 10s of the Meiji period. It is said that Gottfried Wagener (1831-1892), a German scientist employed by the Meiji government, made great contributions to the refining of the enameling technique. The remarkable change is so great that other cloisonné enameled objects are outshined. Objects glowing with the new cloisonné enamel shine spread throughout the world via events such as World Expositions and the craft continues to attract people today.   

Production Process of Cloisonné, Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum by photo by Kimura YouichiOriginal Source: Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum

The process of cloisonné enameling

How is wire cloisonné enameling done? First, the basic design is drawn on the base vessel (copper, silver, ceramic, etc.). Silver wire is then placed along the outlines of the drawing and glass glaze is poured within the outlines. The vessel is then fired and polished. A copper vessel is used in this example, but during the Meiji period copper vessels were also mainly used. The glaze will drip down during firing if too much is applied at once, so it is important to apply only a small amount of glaze before firing and repeat this process many times over — a process that requires great skills and patience. As the process is quite complex, it must have been difficult to explain it in the past also. In addition to finished objects like vases and incense burners and containers, many samples showing the process of the production were also made oriented toward foreign countries to explain about the technique during the Meiji period, when the exporting of cloisonné ware was at its peak. The sample shown here is also one of such made at the time.

Portrait of Namikawa Yasuyuki (1845-1927)Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Namikawa Yasuyuki: key figure in the
development of pre-modern Kyoto cloisonné ware

In the midst of the chaotic early years of Meiji after the shogunate came to an end, the shippō artist Namikawa Yasuyuki (1845-1927) was born; he would later become an extremely popular artist and his works still remain in great demand on the art market today. Namikawa was born to a family that had absolutely nothing to do with shippō, and served under Shōrenin-no-miya. During the turmoil between the end of the shogunate and early Meiji period, shippō cloisonné enameling caught his attention and he focused on developing the technique through trials and errors, becoming a key figure in the development of pre-modern Kyoto cloisonné ware.

Workshop of Namikawa Yasuyuki, Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum CollectionOriginal Source: Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum

The workshop

Namikawa’s workshop specialized in producing luxury vessels and objects. Selected artisans worked under divisions but Namikawa himself ensured the firing was properly done. The small bottles seen in the back contained glazes. At the workshop delicate, unique designs were produced using delicate wire embedding technique and various glazes. Today, the Namikawa Cloisonné Museum stands where the workshop once stood and visitors can get a glimpse of how cloisonné ware was once produced here.

Jar with lid with birds and flowers, Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum Collection by Namikawa Yasuyuki (1845-1927), photo by Kimura YouichiOriginal Source: Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum

Namikawa’s cloisonné works with black background and intricately depicted pictures of flowers and birds were particularly popular. Colorful designs of plants stand out particularly against the background. Such cloisonné items were in great demand and prices are said to have skyrocketed as a result. The example piece shown here stands only 8 cm high, but one can see that it was made with outstanding skills. Works by Namikawa come with varied silver wire thickness that mark the outline of the designs, allowing him to create fine cloisonné pieces with gradations and painting-like designs.

Incense Box with Flower and Butterfly Design, Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum Collection by Namikawa Yasuyuki(1845-1927) and Photo by Kimura YouichiOriginal Source: Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum

Besides Namikawa there were also other cloisonné artists from Kyoto, including Inaba Shichiho (1849-1931) of Kin’unken. At the time there were many cloisonné workshops gathering on the eastern side of Sanjō Ōhashi and most of them produced items for exporting. 

Cloisonné Tray with Reed and Wild Goose, Kyomizu Sannenzaka Museum Collection by Namikawa Sōsuke (1847-1910) , photo by Kimura YouichiOriginal Source: Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum

The three major production sites of cloisonné enamel ware in Japan were, as seen so far, Kyoto, Owari (the origin of wire cloisonné), and Tokyo. In Tokyo the counterpart of Kyoto’s Namikawa was Namikawa Sōsuke, whose works at the Geihinkan at Akasaka is of particular fame. His cloisonné works differed only in that he newly developed the wireless technique, where the silver wire outlines were removed in the final production stage to bring out unique bleeding of colors. Visitors at an exposition who saw his work later revealed that they had thought they were looking at a painting, which anyone would agree.

Vase with a bird hunting a cicada, Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum Collection by Kawade Shibataro (1856-?), photo by Kimura YouichiOriginal Source: Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum

Cloisonné ware was first and mostly produced in Owari. This pair of vases were made by Kawade Shibataro who worked as the head of the factory of Andō cloisonné store, an old establishment that continues to produce cloisonné ware today. The design seen on these vases depict a bird aiming to catch a cicada. At the top of the vases is the imperial chrysanthemum emblem. Luxury cloisonné items were often purchased by the imperial family and given as gifts to diplomatic envoys or rewards for meritorious vassals. It is believed that these vases were gifts as such.

Incense box with autumn plants, Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum Collection by Hayashi Kodenji (1831-1915), photo by Kimura YouichiOriginal Source: Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum

The incense holder in this example was made by Hayashi Kodenji (1831-1915) who was also an Owari cloisonné artist. The palm-size incense holder is adorable and makes one want to have one. From the fact that relatively more cloisonné enameled incense holders have survived today, we can see how popular these items were at the time.



Sannenzaka Museum

The Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Musuem located at Sannenzaka close to Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto holds Japan’s best collection of pre-modern shippō cloissoné objects, including those by Kyoto’s Namikawa, Tokyo’s Namikawa, and various works of Owari shippō ware. Visitors will be able to imagine what it was like back then. While it is unfortunate that the delicate skills for making shippō cloisonné ware are gradually dying out and only very few people are patient enough to spend time to create the craft, the technique continues to survive today, especially in Owari. One can discern the tradition of the technique from works by individual artists or from accessories made today.

Credits: Story

Information provided by: Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum

Supported by Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, Fureaikan

Photo by:Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum

Text written by : Matsubara Fumi

English Translation by Eddy Y. L. Chang

Exhibition created byYamamoto Masako(Research Fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS))
and Watanabe Aoi, Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Directed by Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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