The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History

The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History

The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History

The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History

Synopsis

Illuminating one thousand years of history, The Pilgrim Art explores the remarkable cultural influence of Chinese porcelain around the globe. Cobalt ore was shipped from Persia to China in the fourteenth century, where it was used to decorate porcelain for Muslims in Southeast Asia, India, Persia, and Iraq. Spanish galleons delivered porcelain to Peru and Mexico while aristocrats in Europe ordered tableware from Canton. The book tells the fascinating story of how porcelain became a vehicle for the transmission and assimilation of artistic symbols, themes, and designs across vast distances--from Japan and Java to Egypt and England. It not only illustrates how porcelain influenced local artistic traditions but also shows how it became deeply intertwined with religion, economics, politics, and social identity. Bringing together many strands of history in an engaging narrative studded with fascinating vignettes, this is a history of cross-cultural exchange focused on an exceptional commodity that illuminates the emergence of what is arguably the first genuinely global culture.

Excerpt

In 1598 Philip ii of Spain was buried in the Escorial palace north of Madrid in a coffin made from the keel of the Cinco Chagas de Cristo, a vessel that had served as the flagship of five viceroys of Goa in India, the center of the Portuguese maritime empire in Asia. Sailing for the Portuguese crown for over a quarter of a century, the teak-built carrack had made about nine round-trip voyages between Goa and Lisbon, twice as many as the usual transport. the two legs of the carreira da Índia, “roadway to India,” added up to 37,000 kilometers, a journey that took at least eighteen months and levied a frightful toll in men and vessels. Although Portuguese seamen piously declared that “God takes them out and God brings them back,” the number shipwrecked or lost on the return voyage, when captains invariably overloaded their vessels with Asian merchandise, was disproportionately great. Perhaps Philip, who believed that Providence guided his realm, considered that the fortunate Cinco Chagas, named for the “Five Wounds” of the Crucifixion, had benefited from the same dispensation. the great carrack also evoked a global vista that appealed to the king, for mariners celebrated it as a remarkable link between East and West, connecting the far sides of the world just as the lordship of Philip himself had done in life. the monarch, who paid exacting attention to mortuary details, evidently regarded his carrack coffin in the claustrophobic, subterranean vault of the Escorial as an emblem of his wide-ranging dominion.

The Cinco Chagas had been moored in Lisbon harbor for some years before Philip ii died, serving a degrading retirement as a demasted storage hulk. the monarch could appropriate its keel for his tomb because twenty years earlier he had seized Portugal after King Sebastian I (r. 1557–78), the last of the Avis dynasty, and seven thousand of his nobles were slaughtered at the battle of Alcázar-Quibir in . . .

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