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