Santa Margarita Porcelain
1622 FLEET << RESEARCH
Porcelain from the
" The sun never sets on the British empire" is the old saying which refers to the fact that Victorian England had colonized so many lands they encircled the globe, but in reality Spain, along with Portugal, was the first nation to have been able to rightfully lay claim to this phrase. In Spain's case, from the period of 1565 - 1815, that empire stretched from Europe to the Americas across the Pacific to the Philippine Islands. The ultimate purpose of such far flung outposts such as Spanish Manila was the trade access it afforded. Oriental goods such as silks, spices, jewels and porcelain were in high demand in Europe and the American colonies and importing them to these places could turn a very high profit for the shippers. Though there was no direct trade to China, junks loaded with Chinese goods would sail to Manila where they could be purchased with Spanish-American silver. Galleons then carried the merchandise across the Pacific to Mexico for redistribution throughout the rest of Spain's empire.
Excavation at the site of the 1622 Tierra Firme galleon Santa Margarita has yielded evidence for this Spanish taste for Oriental goods. Though this ship did not sail to Manila, or even Mexico, five sherds of porcelain tableware have been recovered over the years since the site's discovery in 1980 by Treasure Salvors. The low volume of this ceramic type does not indicate that it was a part of the cargo of this ship, but most likely for shipboard use. Though this is certainly only slight evidence, it does offer a peek into the types of wares being utilized in the trade during the early 17th century.
These two dish fragments and three cup or bowl fragments are of a common style designed for the export trade called "kraak" ( the Dutch term for "carrack", the primary ship of transport in the trade) porcelain. The vessel forms are purely Chinese and do not reflect design alterations catering to European needs. Kraak porcelain was manufactured in China's Jiangxi province during a period sometime shortly after 1565 until the late 1640's. These sherds reflect the relative hastiness of their mass production with numerous flaws and sloppy design elements. The glaze, with its slightly blue tint characteristic of this ware, is unevenly applied, and in two instances contains grit and sand inclusions, as well as being pitted. One ring-footed dish base is flawed with a slight radial scalloping, called "chatter marks," resulting from imperfect smoothing of the vessel before firing . These marks are traditioally believed to have resulted from workers busily engaged in conversation with colleagues, and not paying attention to the task at hand.
All of the sherds are painted with two tones of blue pigment. The decoration was first outlined with darker, well defined lines and these were then filled with a lighter shade in a fashion similar to today’s childrens' coloring books. Little attention was paid to staying within the lines, and in some instances the lighter pigment looks to have been applied as a wash over the darker borders. Some of the motifs that can be seen are floral sprays, scrolls and vertical lines which divided the body of the pieces into "panels", each containing a separate theme. A deer, the Taoist symbol of longevity, is found on the central interior of one dish fragment.
Chinese porcelain, having made its way half-way around the globe, was not only being used by the Spanish but was having an effect on the design of European majolicas by the late renaissance/early modern period. Attempts to copy the Chinese vessel forms and design motifs are found on Italian and Hispanic wares beginning in the mid-1500's.
Perhaps the greatest history lesson to be gathered from these few sherds is in their representation of the growing global trade that was occurring the period of the early 17th century. From China to the Philippines to Mexico, then to the rest of the Americas and Europe, these items were affecting the economy at each stop as they traded hands. Today we don't blink an eye about purchasing a cheap porcelain knick-knack stamped "Made in China" but now we can see the roots for the trade network that allowed us to become jaded about something that has traveled so far.
1990 "Ceramic Cargo of the Concepción" in Archaeological Report: the Recovery of the Manila
Galleon Nuestra Señora de La Concepción, Pacific Sea Resources, Sutton, Vermont.
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