Changsha ewers trapped in a coral concretion on the top of the wreck mound.
Photo by Michael Flecker. Courtesy of Asia Society Museum.
When Marco Polo first brought porcelain from China to Europe, in the 14th century, the Venetian merchant was around five centuries behind Middle Eastern traders. As early as the 9th century, Arab cities had developed a taste for Chinese porcelain wares, commissioning all kinds of vessels from Tang Dynasty China, which even at that early date had developed techniques for the full-scale mass production of ceramics.
Changsha bowls tightly packed inside a storage jar. Photo by Michael Flecker.
Courtesy of Asia Society Museum.
While it’s ancient history, we’ve only learned relatively recently of the extent of trade between the two civilizations, thanks to an Arab cargo ship packed with porcelain that sank en route from China to the Persian Gulf in the 9th century. Discovered by commercial sea cucumber divers in 1998 off the coast of Indonesia, the shipwreck was full of well-preserved contents, a selection of which go on view in the U.S. for the first time ever in “Secrets of the Sea: A Tang Shipwreck and Early Trade in Asia” at the Asia Society in New York from March 7th.
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