Chinese Cloisonné Ceremonial Washbowl

Late 18th – early 19th Century
7.5” h. 16” d.w.

This substantial ceremonial washbowl was a part of Sue Corbet’s cloisonné collection. Sue Corbet is a well-known collector of unique cloisonné and many pieces in her collection were shown in books and exhibitions. This bowl was used by a person of high status to cleanse his hands entering a shrine or chapel to pray for good harvest or well-being for himself and his family.
Like quality cloisonné of this period, the bowl has a solid heavy bronze body; the wires delineating the contour of the designs are fine, accurately bent and gilded. Most of the surface of the bowl is decorated with traditional scrolling lotus and stems, very finely executed. Interspersed among the flowers is the “long life” motif. This lidded deep bowl is well-made because even the inside of each half of the bowl is beautifully enameled with scrolling lotus designs on a turquoise blue ground. Turquoise blue was a favorite background color used on cloisonné during the Qing dynasty. The bottom of the bowl is inlaid with gilded wires in a scrolling design on a turquoise ground. A special touch on this bowl is a celadon color nephrite jade carving of a dragon embedded in the center of the lid.
This enamel bowl displays a common sign of early enamel: a matte finish and lots of small pits on the surface of the bowl. Bronze, a metal used in early stage of cloisonné-making, contains lots of gas bubbles, which escaped during the enameling process and, as a result, damaged the enamel, creating the pits. Later on, copper replaced bronze in the process. This metal is much less affected by this problem. The early cloisonné therefore is easily recognized by the large numbers of little pits and unevenness. It is hard to find good pieces in good condition. These found, usually command a high price.