"Chinese" Shells as Markers of Culture and Territory

October 9, 2018

As part of Hong Kong University's Interdisciplinary Lunchtime Seminar, Dr Anna Grasskamp will present research on "Chinese" shells which were exchanged across the world via maritime networks.

 

Although lower in material hierarchy than pearls or corals in the Ming and Qing dynasties, the polished shells from Southeast Asia engraved with Chinese motifs were considered treasures in the sixteenth-century cabinets of curiosity in different parts of Europe. This talk traces the shells’ travel trajectories back to Asia and introduces early modern Chinese perceptions of the relationships between maritime material culture and territory.

 

Title: Ocean Objects: “Chinese” Shells in a Global Context

Speaker: Dr. Anna Grasskamp (Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong Baptist University)

Date: October 23, 2018 Time: 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

Venue: Room 201, 2/F, May Hall, The University of Hong Kong

Language: English

Enquiry: (Tel) (852) 3917-5772 (Email) ihss@hku.hk

For more information, visit www.hkihss.hku.hk/en/events/seminar-by-dr-anna-grasskamp-20181023/

 

Nautilus cup, about 1550
Shell (Nautilus pompilius), silver-gilt mount

The British Museum, Waddesdon Bequest (WB.114)

 

Click to learn more and view images of this Nautilus Cup from the British Museum's Waddesdon Bequest: http://wb.britishmuseum.org/MCN2585#1504264001

 

Abstract
Polished shells from Southeast Asia engraved with Chinese motifs formed part of sixteenth-century cabinets of curiosity in different parts of Europe. While early modern German collectors classified such shells as “Indian” (indianisch), a term applied equally to natural objects and artifacts from the Americas, East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia, European naturalists of later periods attributed geographically specific place names to the very same items. In addition, scholars have considered maritime objects such as engraved, polished or natural shells, corals and pearls to be “global” as they were exchanged through world-spanning trade networks. Taking shells decorated with Chinese motifs in sixteenth and seventeenth century German collections as point of departure, this talk traces the shells’ travel trajectories back to Asia and introduces early modern Chinese perceptions of the relationships between maritime material culture and territory. Although the places of different kinds of shells in Ming and Qing material hierarchies were lower than those of pearls and coral, conches and bivalves functioned as important artistic means, they were polished, carved and painted and natural specimen are represented in paintings and illustrated treatises. Understood to be the products of mollusks with the ability to design and build remarkably complex shapes, shells formed gateways to the abundantly creative and productive spaces of the ocean. As in the early modern imagination, shells not only housed parallel miniature universes, they also formed gateways through which mythological creatures could reach out of the deep waters and into imagined paradises and foreign territories they were believed to inhabit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 https://www.hkihss.hku.hk/en/events/seminar-by-dr-anna-grasskamp-20181023/

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