Treasure Ships – Art in the Age of Spices – Part 1

This exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia includes 300 outstanding and rarely-seen works of ceramics, decorative arts, furniture, metalware, paintings, prints, and textiles from public and private collections around the world.
The selected works of art reveal how the international trade in spices and other exotic commodities inspired dialogue between Asian and European artisits, centuries-old conversations whose heritage is the aesthetic globalism we know today.

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The map by Petrus Plancius is a masterpiece of cartographic art, the sharpness of the image shows that it was one of the first maps to be engraved on copper plate. On the base of the map are the spices, the nutmeg and cloves that the Portuguese, Dutch and English were seeking and the map served as a prospectus for the raising of funds for the first Dutch expedition to the East Indies in 1595 by ‘The Company for Far Distant Lands’ which was a forerunner to the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

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After Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1497 the Portuguese came to the East ‘In search of Christian and Spices’. Their superior ships and weapons allowed them to establish trading bases in Goa, Malacca, Ternate, Banda, Macao and Nagasaki and extend their trading network across Asia.They were followed almost hundred years later by the Dutch and the English in 1595 and 1601 respectively.


At the entrance to the exhibit are examples of the weapons and armour that the Europeans used to establish their trading bases across the Eastern Seas. A Portuguese helmet and a Dutch cannon are on display


This is a kris made for a Sultan, its blade is inlaid with gold and its sheath decorated with diamonds and semi-precious stones and although purely decorative it represents the weapons used by the islanders to fight the Portuguese and the Dutch intruders.

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The Portuguese captured the island of Goa on the west coast of India and used it as the base for their Estado do India and their expanding trade routes across the East Indies and the Orient. This map shows the development of the city Goa in 1699.

06_Plan of the City of Goa,1750

Francisco de Almeida became the first Governor of Goa and the Estado da India


This large wooden chest with a VOC insignia on its front was probably used by VOC personnel to bring their possessions by ship to the East Indies or to be filled with silver dollars to purchase spices and other trade items in the archipelago.

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Spanish silver dollars were the common trade currency but these are German silver thaler coins dated 1592 to 1624 and were recovered from the wreck of the Batavia which sank in 1629 off the coast of Western Australia.



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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2 Responses to Treasure Ships – Art in the Age of Spices – Part 1

  1. armando cação says:

    D. Francisco de Almeida was the first vice-rei in India, till the end of 1509. In Cochim, the first main portuguese place in India. Goa was definitivly taken in 1510, Saint Catherine’s day, that becomes the Goa protector. In November 25, by Albuquerque. So Almeida never was in Goa.

  2. ianburnet says:

    Hello Armando and thanks for your update

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