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Starboard side view of a Shanghai trading junk at sea

Date: 19th century
Overall: 191 x 220 x 23 mm, 0.35 kg
Medium: Oil paint, pearl shell
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Painting on shell
Object No: 00029316
Place Manufactured:Zhonghua

User Terms

    One of two small oil paintings of a Shanghai trading junk at sea, painted on a matching pair of large pearl shells. This particular version is of the staboard side of the junk.
    The shells and the images are in mirror reverse. The junk has a conspicuous 'gazing eye' painted on the bow.
    While the artist, date and origin unknown of the paintings are unknown, they are likely to be Chinese from the19th century. The matching image is numbered 00029317.
    SignificanceThe paintings are interesting and unusual maritime souvenirs which are relevant to traditional trade from Australian northern coasts and waters, and also demonstrate widely held maritime beliefs or superstition.
    HistoryThe shells used for the paintings (00029317 also) are a variety of the genus Pintada, possibly P.maxima, the largest variety of pearl shell.
    The paintings are very finely executed and rae reminiscent of the Chinese School of painting.
    The vessel depicted is the classic cargo junk common to China and Java for 2,000 years and which traded as far as the Philippines. Junks are typified by the square bow and raised stern. Vessels such as this carried cargoes back to China such as trepang which had originated in Australian northern waters and been traded on in the East Indies .
    The conspicuous eye oroculus painted on the bow shows the religious beliefs or superstitions which have been held by many cultures, in personifying vessels. It was belived that the ships required these eyes to see their way over the seas and therefore avoid any ocean perils that might be awaiting them.

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