Home > Asian Art, Museums/Galleries, News/Events > GLOBAL SPICE TRADE AND THE ARTS


June 8, 2015
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
June 13th to August 30th
Exhibition includes some 300 rarely seen works of ceramics, decorative arts, furniture, metalware, screens, paintings, prints and textiles. 
If I had known as a young person  what I know now about exotic spices I would have become a spice trader!
The  height of the spice age, circa 1500 – 1800 was a time of intense competitive  international trade. Think of Portuguese carracks traveling three years from Lisboa to the Indian Ocean and Japan (the famous three-masted “Black Ships”),  later the Dutch or “redheads” trading at Nagasaki under the auspices of the VOC (Dutch East India Company),  and all the merchants who came along, settled and resettled all over Asia, together with Franciscan  and Augustine monks and most of all the Jesuits. In addition to cloves, nutmeg and pepper,  a wealth of products, styles, art forms, fabrics and ceramics  traveled from Europe to Asia and back again, often in a modified form.  When the Portuguese and Catholicism were banned from Japan, the Dutch “who brought their trade but left their gods at home”  replaced the Portuguese at the artificial Island of Deshima in Nagasaki  and it just happened at the time of the collapse of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) in China    which opened an opportunity for the Dutch to look for a replacement of the declining Chinese ceramic production and they turned to Arita potters in Japan.
I excerpted freely from an article that just appeared in the June 2015 Orientations Magazine (orientations.com)  issue  TREASURE SHIPS: ART IN THE AGE OF SPICES, by Russell Kelty.It talks about an exhibition on view at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) from June 13th to August 30th. Russell Kelty is the Assistant Curator  of Asian Art  Gallery-  am unable to find a link to the article itself but to a symposium about the exhibit. http://spiceislandsblog.com/2015/05/25/treasure-ships-art-in-the-age-of-spices-sympsium/
The exhibition catalogue is written by James Bennett and Russell Kelty. I have contacted AGSA to find out when they will sell the catalogue.
Spice trade and the trade in fabrics – I just looked over an old exhibition catalogue SILK ROAD  CHINA SHIPS, An Exhibition of East West Trade,  at the ROM/Royal Ontario Museum  1983 catalogue by Vollmer, Keall and Nagay-Berthrong, and on page 119 is a photo of a Japanese silk kimono, with red mordant painted resist-dye pattern of Indian chintz copied by an Indian painter for a Dutch gentleman, perhaps commissioned by a merchant on a ship on the Island of Deshima.  The style of the garment is Japanese and the pattern and colors totally Indian dating from the early 1700s.
On a recent trip to Washington,D.C. I started talking about the century old global trade in spices and fabrics and a friend wanted a recommendation of  books about the old spice trade. Here are my recommendations.

The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of Three Great Cities of Spice, by Michael Krondi

Spice:  The History of Temptation,  by Jack Turner

Cumin, Camels, and Caravans: A Spice Odyssey, by Gary Paul Nabhan

The Scents of Eden: A History of the Spice Trade, by Charles Corn

The Spice Route: A History, by John Keay (have not read this one)

Out of the East, by Paul Freedman

Spice Islands: The History, Romance and Adventure of the Spice Trade Who changed the Course of History, by Giles Milton

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