Period: Ming dynasty (1368–1644)
Date: early 15th century
Medium: Cloisonné enamel
Dimensions: H. 1 in. (2.5 cm); Diam. 6 in. (15.2 cm)
Credit Line: Purchase, Florence and Herbert Irving Gift, 1993
Accession Number: 1993.338
Cloisonné is the technique of creating designs on metal vessels with colored-glass paste placed within enclosures made of copper or bronze wires, which have been bent or hammered into the desired pattern. Known as cloisons (French for "partitions"), the enclosures are generally either pasted or soldered onto the metal body. The glass paste, or enamel, is colored with metallic oxide and painted into the contained areas of the design. The vessel is usually fired at relatively low temperature, about 800ºC. Enamels commonly shrink during firing, and the process is repeated several times to fill in the designs. Once this process is completed, the surface of the vessel is rubbed until the edges of the cloisons are visible. They are then gilded, as on this dish, which also has gilding on its scalloped edges, in the interior, and on the base.
Lively scrolling lotuses and acanthus leaves are set against a turquoise blue background on the interior (and parts of the exterior) of the dish. In Chinese examples dating to the fifteenth century, this background color is often combined with shades of red, yellow, cobalt blue, white, and dark green, which were not mixed but placed individually within each cloison. Although cloisonné was known in China in the fourteenth century, fifteenth-century pieces such as this are the earliest preserved.