ANCIENT CHINESE ART TECHNIQUES
on the human and horse armor
of China, Mongolia and Tibet
These plates (photo from Wikimedia Commons) are decorated with damascening.
We know that ancient Chinese art consists of more than pottery, paintings and sculpture. A lot of very interesting techniques were used to decorate both human and horse armor. Some of the most interesting Tibetan art is found in examples of shaffrons, saddles and neck guards for war horses. Mongolian armor shows art techniques were not limited to decorations but used on functional objects. This page names some of the ancient Chinese art techniques and describes them. It's a reference page for terminology found on the Horse Armor page and elsewhere in the Chinese Swords Guide.
An overlay process used to cover larger areas of a common metal with more decorative metals such as gold or silver. The surface of the background metal is scored with fine lines. Wires of gold or silver are then laid over the lines and burnished in place, giving a smooth, polished effect.
Areas of the background material were hollowed out to the desired pattern. Shell, wood, stone or precious metals were then cut to shape and fixed into the background. This was demanding and intricate work. It needed to fit very neatly. Gaps were filled with dust from the materials used. The design was polished flush with the original surface. Sometimes lacquer was applied over the top. In ancient Chinese art and Tibetan art, this lacquer sometimes consisted of layers of shellac and tung oil.
Tibetan inlay used grooves carved into the surface for inserting wires of gold or silver. It is fairly rare and damascening was used more frequently.
An example of Tibetan engraving.
Engraving is carving pictures or designs on a background material. Wood and leather are easy to engrave. It is also done on harder materials such as stone and metals. Tibetan art engraving is considered one of their great treasures.
Traditional ancient Chinese art designs are found engraved on weapons and armour. My Qing helmet has dragons and other symbols engraved on the baogai, front plate, and visor.
Flat, thin plates of metal were punched or cut in designs.The shapes cut out of the metal were the designs. It is seen in Chinese and other Asian artwork on saddles, helmet brow plates and other fairly flat surfaces. Sometimes the effect was enhanced by using a different coloured metal to the one underneath.
Embossing and other leatherwork
Since leather was easy to work with, the Chinese, and Tibetans used a number of techniques to decorate it. It was chiseled, embossed, painted, overlayed in gold and laquered, etc. I've seen a scabbard wrapped with wire and laquered, making a very interesting textured effect that has stood the test of time. Leather arm guards, bow cases and quivers
were other examples of ancient Chinese art worked in leather
Mercury was mixed with gold to form an amalgum. A layer of copper sulfate was applied to the surface to be gilded. Then the surface was heated until the mercury evaporated, leaving a thin layer of gold attached to the base metal.
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