Cloisonné enamel was developed in China in the Yuan Dynasty, but the earliest securely dated pieces were made from the Xuande (1426-1435) reign of the Ming Dynasty (Figs C1, C2 and C3). The technique involved soldering wires of the design on to a metal body and then applying the enamels within the cells or ‘cloisons’. Pieces would then be fired in kilns and later the enamels were worked back to the wire borders.

One of the most common designs in the early Ming Dynasty was the meandering lotus scroll, where each flower is multicoloured and decorated with a different colour for the outer petals. (Figs C2. and C3.) These bold designs are usually on bright turquoise grounds. The forms of the vessels could vary from incense burners, to bowls, vases, kundika and boxes and covers.

In the 16th century, new forms were developed such as Islamic inspired ewers and covers, with flattened pear-shaped bodies and tall outward turned spouts, rounded hu vases on a tall spreading feet, meiping (spring blossom) vases and large dishes, decorated with dragons. (C4.)

In the Qing Dynasty in the 18th century under the reign of the emperor Qianlong, greater varieties of shapes and sizes developed, (C5., C6. and C7.) as did the sophistication and variety of designs. Two extremes of this can be seen in an example of a Buddhist model of a mandala (C6.) and a large incense burner and cover sitting on three cranes, which act as the feet. During this period, large scale vessels such as incense burners (Fig C4.) were manufactured at the imperial workshops (Zaobanchu) for use in the many halls of the Forbidden City.