Gold and Silver Ware, Glassware, Enamelware
Eagle decorated golden crown top and golden crown belt of Warring States Period_CraftChina

Gold and silver ware

The major methods for processing fold articles originated from bronze making, which include smelting, mould founding, hammering, welding, bead-forming, engraving, wire-twining, wire inlay, etc., but developed or innovated. Take the bead-forming craft for example. It is an art unique to gold processing in which the first step is to let melted gold drip into warm water drop by drop to form beads of various sizes, and then by welding each tiny drop of gold, fish-egg patterns or bead-string patterns are made. Silverware turned up later than gold, and followed gold articles in working procedures.


From the very beginning gold and silver articles came out as artworks. The existing earliest gold objects were made in the Shang Dynasty more than 3,000 years ago. They were mostly ornaments, simple in shape, small in size, with less decorative patterns. The Shang-dynasty gold articles were chiefly gold and silver foil, gold leaves and sheets, used to adorn utensils; only a few in the northern and northwestern regions were used for personal adornment. Of the earlier gold articles, the gold masks and the gold staffs unearthed from the early Shu-culture ruins in Sanxingdui of Guanghan, Sichuan Province, are the most eye-catching. In the Shang and Zhou dynasties, the bronze techniques and the jade carving both facilitated the growth of gold and silver crafts.

The silver chuwang yi (ladle for dipping water in the shape of a gourd used by he king of the State of Chu) kept in the Palace Museum is one of the earliest silver utensils discovered so far. During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period, articles with gold and silver inlay came into view in great quantity, which marked the high technical level of gold crafts at that time. The process of gold and silver inlay started from the mid-Spring and Autumn Period, prevailed in the Warring States Period and gradually went downhill since the Western Han Dynasty. It is one of the ancient fine metal techniques used for adornment. The procedure is to incise patterns or inscriptions on the surface of bronzeware by casting or by chiseling, then have gold and silver wire inlaid, and then grind and polish to produce a decorative effect.


In the Han Dynasty, the gold and silver objects, in addition to decorating bronze and iron utensils using such techniques as coating, mounting, plating, inlaying, etc., were applied to lacquer ware and silk fabrics in the shape of foils or filings to increase splendor. Gradually the craft of using gold foil to make flower-shaped patterns grew mature, until it finally broke away from traditional bronze craft to develop all on its own.


During the Six Dynasties Period, as external exchange expanded and the Buddhist art spread, gold and silver articles used in Buddhist emerged, often giving the alien flavor of the northern nomads or the Persian Sassanids Empire.


The gold and silver articles in the Tang Dynasty were various in kind, including tableware, drinking bowls, vessels, containers for medicine, miscellaneous articles for household use, ornaments and articles for religious use. Moreover, the process in making them was meticulous and complex. Hammering, casting, welding, cutting, polishing, riveting, plating, carving and piercing were extensively used. So resplendent and graceful, so elegant and vivacious, so healthy and mature that had he gold and silver ware already become one of the signs of a prosperous age.


In the Song Dynasty works of gold and silver combined with wood, lacquer and other materials came into being, and the art of painting was introduced for adornment, using solid carving decoration and raised floral-pattern technique. In the Yuan Dynasty, new varieties of artworks were developed including vases, cases, zun (a kind of wine vessel in ancient times), lian (toilet case used by women), and shelves. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, the gold and silver articles were meticulous in shape and the workmanship was pleasing to the eye. In the Qing Dynasty, the compound process became more developed by which gold, silver combined with enamel, pearl, jade, jem, etc., set one another off to form a bright scene.




Glassware containing lead and barium emerged as early as the Western Zhou Dynasty. The lead-barium glass requires a relatively low melting temperature. It looks sparkling and crystal clear, but thin and brittle, and can not resist sharp drop or rise in temperature. It is therefore unfit for making utensils or apparatuses. Often lead-barium glass was processed to make ornaments, ritual objects or funerary objects.


By the beginning of the Warring States Period, dragonfly-eye and jade-imitation glass was invented. Dragonfly-eye glass is prepared by adhering multicolor rings on top of glass beads, looking like dragonfly-eyes, thus the name. in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period, glass techniques became mature and technical exchange with foreign country started. The technical process in making glass includes casting, twining, inlaying, etc. glass objects such as bi (a round piece of jade with a hole in its center used for ceremonial purposes in ancient China), ring and sword are prepared by pouring melted glass into moulds.


In the Han Dynasty, glass manufacturing became poly-centered, mainly in three regions. In the Central Plain region, Zhou Dynasty process was followed, producing chiefly lead-barium glass. In the Hexi Corridor region (in Northwestern Gansu, so called because it lies to the west of the Yellow River) lead-barium glass was also produced with traditional formula, adding sodium and calcium as flux. In the Linnan Region (area covering Guangdong and Guangxi) centered on Guangzhou, potassium-silicon glass was produced. In the Wei, Jin, Northern and Southern dynasties, regional separatist regimes hankered after importing foreign glass, in particular in the Northern Dynasties Period, when the rulers not only imported glass, but also introduced western glass technology to China. In the Sui Dynasty, a eunuch named He Chou, dawing on the experience of green porcelain manufacturing, successfully produced glass. Glass in the Tang Dynasty was mainly high-lead glass without containing barium, but containing sodium sometimes.


Since the Ming and Qing dynasties, glass grew various in kind. In the Ming Dynasty, Yanshen Town (now Yidu of Shandong Province) was a hub of glass production, where the site of glass production, where the site of glass furnace ruins that had long fallen into oblivion has now been excavated. The Qing Dynasty was at the zenith of ancient glass manufacturing. Glass production at that time was double centered. In the south was Guangzhou whild in the north was Yanshen Town. The imperial glass factory was known for merging together the glass process in the north ans south with European techniques. The imperial glass was plain and unsophisticated, unusually exquisite, representing the achievements attained in glass making in the Qing Dynasty.



The enamelware manufacturing craft is actually a complex process combining enamel process and metal process. It is prepared by first grinding quartz, silicon, feldspar, borax, ans some metal minerals into powder ans then melting and then applying on metal utensils to form a surface after backing. Sometimes polishing or gold-plating is needed. Enamelware which has he sturdiness of metal, the smoothness and corrosion-resistance of glass, is practical and beautiful. To date the earliest enamel object made in China is the Tang-dynasty gold-inlaid silver-base enamel mirror now kept in the Shosoin Repository of Nara, Japan. But no other enamelware was found in the three of four hundred years afterwards. In the late years of the Yuan Dynasty, Chinese enamelware became less influenced by Arabian culture and more and more nationalized.


Enamelware includes gold-inlay enamel, coating enamel, painting enamel in terms of processing methods, and gold-base enamel, copper-base enamel, porcelain-base enamel, glass-bass enamel purple-clay enamel, etc. in terms of bases. Among them the copper-base enamel is he most popular, because the copper price is relatively lower, and enamel is easier to adhere to the copper surface. The distinguished traditional Chinese handicraft Jingtailan (cloisonné enamel), its scientific name being copper background wire-inlay enamel, got its name from being made in large quantities in Beijing during the Jingtai Reign of the Ming Dynasty, and the enamel used was mostly of a blue color. The procedure of Jingtailan includes chiefly base-making, wir-inlaying, firing and soldering, blue enamel coating, enamel-baking, polishing, and gold-plating. Coating is done byusing small iron spade or glass tube to apply glaze of different colors first in the background, then on the designs and then finally to the blue glaze and add some shiny white substance. Glazing and baking procedure is done repeatedly, one blazing followed by one backing, often three times are needed for quality cloisonné.


Promoted and propped up b the Qing government, the enamel handicraft grew fast in the Qing Dynasty based on the achievements attained during the Yuan and Ming dynasties. In the reign of Emperor Kangxing, an enamel factory was set up in the court, making wire-inlay enamel and base-engraving enamel at first, and then making painted enamel successfully on a tentative basis. Painted enamel which often applies on small objects is heavy and thick in color, similar to the mixed glaze in earlier times. Porcelain-base enamel, also called enameled color porcelain, is to apply enamel paint on porcelain base. It is a perfect combination of porcelain and painted enamel craft. In the reign of Emperor Qianlong, painted enamel craft was booming. Aside from the court, Guagzhou was the major place of painted enamel making. The painted enamel works made in court featured neat design, meticulous painting, and elevated style, using mostly bright yellow color that is rich in royal flavor. Painted enamel works made in Guangzhou have bold and unstrained lines, decorated with European-style roll-up leaves design using glaze material imported from western countries that is gorgeous in color and sparkling in luster. At that time, snuff bottles of diversified types meticulously produced showed up. They were producd combining enamel, jade, agate, crystal, and porcelain with calligraphic and drawing art. Even western subject matters such as European women and babies, western styled pavilions and towers, etc. were adopted for designs, which were rarely see in previous dynasties.


Yuan-dynasty silver artwork, carved from a dragon-stump_CraftChina