Maritime Trade & Court and Company Galleries
For thousands of years, the cultures of Asia have traded, interacted, and exchanged ideas. Many works of art in these galleries show global demand and evidence of shifting tastes as traders moved from region to region. It also tells us how special objects were eagerly sought in lands far away, and how new works of art were created through the blending of different sources.
Many of these objects were made primarily for the European markets, but royal courts in China, India, and Southeast Asia were also important patrons and consumers of artworks. Some of these courts formed collections that included works from different cultures. The arrival of Europeans, who set up trading “companies” in many Asian port cities, also spurred production and trades in artworks.
In many cases, objects were produced for trade and export. Other examples document the desire for beauty, or the fascination with exotic materials and techniques. It is useful to be reminded that global networks of trade were already active in Asia two thousand years ago. These encounters between cultures have shaped our world, and affect the way objects look.
The Martime Trade Gallery present Chinese, Japanese, and Southeast Asian Ceramics, much of it made for export. Asian furniture and decorative arts for the export market are also on display. Maps and views of Canton, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Batavia, Nagasaki and Manila explore the history of the cosmopolitan Asian port cities that came before Singapore.
Southeast Asian trade is featured in the Court and Company Gallery. Masterpieces of Indian and Sri Lankan export furniture, trade textiles, and decorative arts tell of the burgeoning trade carried on by the various European East India companies. Company trade is contrasted against domestic demand — exquisite Indian miniatures and courtly decorative arts made for the Mughal, Rajput, and Deccan courts.
Mounted Incense Burner
Europe, 18th century
Porcelain (China, Jingdezhen, ca 1700),
glided bronze mounts (France, mid-18th century),
lacquer bowls (Japan, 18th century),
height 26.2 cm
This object was assembled in Europe combining a Chinese porcelain horse, Japanese lacquer bowls set rim to rim (a metal tray inside holds burning incense), and red coral. Glided bronze fittings made in Europe hold it altogether. Fantasies like this that blend objects from different cultures and mix the natural with the man-made, were favoured in the Baroque and Rococo periods in Europe (17th and 18th centuries).
China, ca 1785
Porcelain, height 15.5 cm;
diameter 26 cm
Hong bowls were produced by Chinese artists for foreign merchants to take back home as souvenirs of their stay in China. This one shows the lively waterfront of Canton (now Guangzhou), the busiest Chinese port at the end of the 18th century. The buildings along the water are the hongs — offices and residences of Western trading companies. Flags identify the warehouses as British, Dutch, Holy Roman, and Swedish. The American flag is missing, so we assume the bowl was made before the first American company arrived in 1788.