About the gallery
Nearly 1100 years ago, an Arab ship bearing precious cargo set sail from the port of Canton. Just off the shores of Sumatra, the ship sank, and remained untouched until it was discovered by chance in 1998.
Discovered some 600 kilometres southeast of Singapore, the Tang Shipwreck is also known as the Belitung Shipwreck or Batu Hitam (meaning “black rock”) Shipwreck, from which the Chinese name of the wreck 黑石号 derives. Batu Hitam was the name of the reef at which the wreck was discovered. The ship, measuring about 18 metres long, was made of timber sewn together, a typical construction method of vessels from the Persian Gulf. The ship must have sailed from the Middle East to southern China, where it loaded its immense cargo.
The wreck demonstrates that the region has been a centre of global trade as early as the 9th century. Singapore lies between two oceans, along a busy sea route running from the Middle East to India, Southeast Asia, and China – what has been more popularly known recently as the “Maritime Silk Route”. This network rivalled the more famous overland Silk Route through Central Asia. Glass was brought from the Middle East, cotton from India, spices and wood from Southeast Asia, and ceramics and silk from China. These economic ties led to the exchange of technologies and artistic ideas, and to contacts between peoples of different cultures.
The variety of ceramics on this ship also underscores the vitality and the competitiveness of the Chinese ceramics industry, as well as how merchants shrewdly targeted different clients. In addition to the bulk of Changsha wares for the wider market, the ship carried finer ceramics such as Yue celadons and white wares from the Xing and Ding kilns in northern China.
The Tang Shipwreck begins the ACM’s ground floor theme of “Trade and the Maritime Silk Routes”, which features masterpieces of Asian export art (ceramics, furniture, paintings, gold, silver and other materials made in China, India, Japan and Southeast Asia for export to the rest of the world) from the 9th century to the early 20th century.
The Tang Shipwreck Collection was acquired through a generous donation from the Estate of Khoo Teck Puat in honour of the late Khoo Teck Puat.