Treasure Ships – Art in the Age of Spices – Part 2

This exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia is the first exhibition in Australia to present the complex artisitic and cultural interactions between the East and the West from the 16th to the 19th centuries – a period known as the ‘Age of Spices’.

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A feature of the exhibition is the diverse range of Christian artwork created at ports such as Goa and Nagasaki and on loan from Portugal and India. Especially this large golden salver used in religious ceremonies and illustrating the Manueline taste of the period. When filled with water the central part represented an island surrounded by the sea.

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It is decorated with animals, foliage and a maritime scene of a caravel in stormy seas.


Speaking of stormy seas the Jesuit priest Saint Francis Xavier sailed to Goa, then Malacca and then the Spice Islands to bring the Christian message to the Eastern Seas. A frightful storm arose off Ambon and the saint immersed his cross in the water to calm the seas but the cross was lost in the water. It is believed that later when Saint Francis was walking on the beach a crab emerged from the sea holding the cross in its claws and the cross was later enshrined in this silver reliquary.

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The Portuguese, Dutch and English traders soon learned of the popularity of Indian textiles throughout the archipelago and that textiles could replace silver as a trading currency. Here is a baju or jacket in the style of Indian chintz and a sembagi or waist wrap garment made in India and both found in Indonesia.


Court garments like this voluminous dodot waist wrap were popular with the aristocracy throughout Indonesia and have often been preserved as heirloom items.

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The most valued Indian cloth was the patolu or double ikat cloth from Gujarat such as this one displaying a procession of elephants with their royal passengers and foot-bearers found in Indonesia.

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Here is the Rice Godess Dewi Sri and her consort Mas Sadono seated in front of a Gujurati patolu with a ‘flowering basket’ design. Mas Sadono is also wearing an Indian silk patolu cloth as a waistwrap under his belt.

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The exhibition will be at the Art Gallery of South Australia until the end of August when it will move to the Art Gallery of Western Australia until the end of January.

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About ianburnet

Author of the book, Spice Islands. Which tells the History, Romance and Adventure of the spice trade from the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years. Author of the book, East Indies.Which tells the history of the struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas. Author of the book 'Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia'. Author of the book 'Where Australia Collides with Asia' Author of the book 'The Tasman Map'. Author of the book 'Eastern Voyages'.
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