Arts and Culture
Since the 1980’s many shipwrecks in Asia have been uncovered. The majority of the cargo salvaged from shipwrecks consists of ceramics, in particular of Chinese origin. While most of the cargo disintegrates with time and water, ceramics often survive remarkably well. These objects, once belonged to diverse traders, reveal much information about the globally entangled materials and agents along the Maritime Silk Road.
This talk focuses on the 18th century shipwreck “Geldermalsen,” a VOC vessel on its return home loaded with a rich cargo of porcelain among other commodities. The shipwreck was commercially salvaged, with its porcelain sold at auction in 1986 for record prizes. A year later the interest had largely vanished and the value had dropped considerably. The general appreciation for those pieces was (and still largely is) primarily related to monetary value as symbol of the Dutch Golden Age. In other words, the salvaged ceramics are considered more of Dutch treasures than Chinese goods, more local than foreign. The general public had little knowledge about the original context of the ceramics in situ, resulting from a lack of archaeological records but also deficient museum publicity.
How to define the locality of Chinese ceramics from a Dutch shipwreck in Southeast Asia? This study takes an institutional approach to investigate the cultural-biography of objects, their reception in the art market, and most importantly, the display in museum settings. It stresses the need to include in research the less “exciting” materials from to enrich our understanding of maritime global history.