Dec­o­ra­tive arts

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

Silk, Porce­lain and Lac­quer Teresa Canepa (Paul Hol­ber­ton, £75)

In 1578, Car­di­nal Henry, briefly king of Por­tu­gal, sent a Chi­nese white-taffeta canopy, em­broi­dered in gold thread, to the Sul­tan of Morocco, to per­suade him to re­lease ran­somed Por­tuguese no­ble­men. Typ­i­cally in­trigu­ing glimpses of the long Euro­pean love af­fair with Far East­ern dec­o­ra­tive art ap­pear on ev­ery page of this hand­some and sub­stan­tial book: sub­ti­tled ‘China and Ja­pan and their trade with Western Europe and the new World 1500–1644’, its 479 pages of­fer a rich syn­the­sis of ev­i­dence—visual and archival—for three lux­ury im­ports that are usu­ally stud­ied as sep­a­rate dis­ci­plines. As a re­sult, the com­mon threads are knit­ted to­gether and a con­vinc­ing over­view emerges.

Ma­te­rial fresh to An­glo-saxon read­ers in­cludes the Fran­cis­can ap­petite for Chi­nese silks in Mex­ico City, doc­u­mented through in­ven­to­ries taken be­tween 1589 and 1645. An al­tar frontal at Coim­bra, busy with rab­bits, pheas­ants, deer and pea­cocks in a crowded Euro- pean aes­thetic, con­trasts with a cloak in an­other Por­tuguese col­lec­tion, on which hunts­men in Euro­pean dress chase dis­tinc­tively Chi­nese fan­ci­ful an­i­mals. Both were wo­ven and em­broi­dered in Ming China.

This min­gling of styles is a re­minder that, just as with porce­lain, traders in tex­tiles and Ja­panese lac­quer rapidly adapted their goods for the Western mar­kets. Ar­mo­rial hang­ings show­ing the Tro­jan War, painted by Chi­nese artists trained by the Je­suits and bear­ing a ver­sion of the arms of the Mas­caren­has fam­ily, were prob­a­bly or­dered be­tween 1623 and 1626 by the first Gov­er­nor of Ma­cao, who also com­mis­sioned porce­lain.

Ur­ban sites in Lime­house and Pater­nos­ter Square in Lon­don have thrown up kraak porce­lain be­long­ing to pri­va­teers and mer­chants, although porce­lain was rare in Eng­land be­fore 1600. The list of Chi­nese and Euro­pean ship­wrecks with porce­lain in Ap­pendix 3 is a re­minder of how our knowl­edge has been trans­formed by re­cent dis­cov­er­ies off South Africa, the Azores, Florida and Ber­muda. Philippa Glanville

A Ming badge em­broi­dered with floss-silks and gold thread

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