Oriental ceramics & works of art

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INTRODUCTION, by Anita Gray

 

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The objects in this catalogue cover a wide spectrum of Oriental art from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The majority acquired in Europe originally through the East India trading companies, some, perhaps as a result of looting.

These are exciting times for scholar and collector alike. A plethora of buried and sunken finds brought to light over the last forty years have not only yielded incomparable treasures but as primary evidence, have enabled accurate dating to be made on known artefacts.

Of the of the many excavations carried out recently in China, probably the most exciting for collectors of porcelain was done by the Jingdezhen Institute of Ceramic Archaeology in 1987. Thousands of sherds including tiny fragments were painstakingly put together to reveal a breathtaking collection of Chenghua period porcelain. This, considered by many connoisseurs to be the most exquisite, highly prized porcelain ever made by craftsmen in the history of Chinese ceramic manufacture. Some decorated in underglaze blue, some in doucai-style enamels. Unrecorded shapes and patterns were unearthed for the world to appreciate,
Shipwrecks salvaged with bountiful cargoes of porcelain have also revealed rare shapes and patterns. Two notable collections are the Hatcher and Vung Tau cargoes of 17th century porcelain which were auctioned, appropriately, in Amsterdam, since that is where the first auction of porcelain from the Far East was held in 1604, when the crowned heads of Europe and other notables carried away the prizes of the day - nothing much changes in the world of collecting.
Dating of artefacts exported by the Chinese rely to a certain extent on documentation that had been retained by the various trading companies and on inventories kept by the great houses of the world. Many people have written on the subject. T. Volker, using the Dagh registers of Batavia Castle and other contemporary papers, covered the period 1602-1682 of trade made by the Dutch East India Company, and one of the most important inventories for objects acquired from the Far East is the Augustus the Strong collection in Dresden, formed in the early 18th century. These are two examples of many which provide source material for accurate dating, however, the inventories were not always clear. The new finds which have surfaced add enormously to our knowledge.
It seems a strange quirk of fate that with the booming economy in China, property development is lending a hand in stripping China of its national heritage. Whether cultural factors will outweigh economic gain remains to be seen. One of the many recent finds was in Guangzhou in Guangdong province. Whilst surveying a site for a new telecommunications building archaeologists discovered the remains of an early Western Han period Imperial palace. This may or may not be designated a museum. The lucrative business of smuggling from sites is rife, and even with the mandatory death sentence for the more serious crimes, early objects continue to leave the country. But, what goes around comes around. Foreign dealers are now exhibiting their antique wares in Beijing before selling them, some of the objects having quite possibly been appropriated from that area not so very long ago. With the new rich in China ready to buy, objects are now returning. Certainly the trade from West to East has begun.

Nothing changes. Territorial disputes continue but despite this people come together when art is involved. There have been many cultural exchanges between East and West, with museum curators working closely together sharing information. The passion for collecting has always been. People go to extraordinary lengths to possess beautiful objects. Poetry is written and stories are told extolling the sheer pleasure derived from both the tactile and visual qualities of these creations from the past.
In this catalogue designs and literary themes are discussed. Attributions made in the past are questioned and reassessed in the light of new information.


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