Cloisonne enamel arrived in China from western Asia in the fourteenth century. Its intricate decoration is made by outlining the design in copper strips that are soldered onto a metal body. The cloisons (cells) of the design are then filled with a colored glass paste and fired. The process is repeated until the pattern is filled to the rim with paste and polished, and the metal is then gilded. With their long experience in metallurgy and glass and glaze production, and a perfect control of firing temperature, Chinese craftsmen soon mastered this technique, and in the Ming period (1368-1644) objects were made of particularly vibrant colors.
The Qianlong emperor (1736-1795) was especially fond of cloisonne. Many of his luxurious, large vessels and furnishings made in the palace workshops can still be found in the Forbidden City's imperial living quarters and throne rooms. This pair of cloisonnee vases with their richly gilt dragon handles speaks clearly of Imperial taste.
Their design, also seen in porcelain vases of the period, shows deer in a garden setting with large pine trees and cranes flying overhead - all symbols of longevity. Thus the vases can be understood as a wish for long life.
The Israel Museum, Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005