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The Ca Mau wreck

Tea bowl and saucer from the Ca Mau wreck, about 1725

A tea bowl and saucer.

Photo: George Serras.

Where and how it was made

This tea bowl and saucer were made in about 1725 at a porcelain works in Jingdezhen in southern China. The blue and white pattern is called 'over the wall'. It shows a man climbing over a wall to meet two maidens, and may have been inspired by a Ming dynasty novel. While this is a Chinese design, some of the other ceramics found in the same shipwreck feature European motifs.

Two decorative dishes.

Left: These 'Scheveningen' dishes were recovered from the Ca Mau shipwreck. The decoration shows the Dutch fishing village of Scheveningen. Courtesy: Sothebys.

Where and how it was traded

It's believed the wreck at Ca Mau was a Chinese merchant's junk on its way from Canton (Guangzhou) to Batavia when it caught fire and sank in about 1725. The goods on board had been ordered by the merchant for Dutch traders who had limited access to China and its ports.

Engraving of a port.

Left: This engraving shows the port of Canton (Guangzhou) in China, about 1669. Courtesy: The Bridgeman Art Library.

22 ceramic dishes stuck together.

Right: Many of the ceramics in the Ca Mau wreck were tightly packed in 60-centimetre pinewood barrels. The fire on board was fierce enough to fuse some of the ceramics together. Courtesy: Sothebys.

Where and how it was used

This bowl and saucer were made for the tea-mad European market. Tea parties began as a novel aristocratic amusement, but they soon became popular social gatherings for the middle class as well. Tea was brewed in ceramic or metal pots and then poured into bowls without handles for drinking.

Oil painting of an eighteenth-century tea party.

Left: Dutch artist Nicolaes Verkolje's oil painting depicts an eighteenth-century tea party. Courtesy: Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK/The Bridgeman Art Library.

How it came to be recovered

Vietnamese fishermen discovered the wreck of a Chinese junk off the coast of the Ca Mau Peninsula in southern Vietnam in 1998. More than 130,000 pieces of porcelain were retrieved during an archaeological excavation, and three Vietnamese museums selected pieces for their collections. The remaining 76,000 ceramics, including this bowl and saucer, were sold at auction in Amsterdam in 2007.

Vietnamese people sitting on milk crates in a warehouse sorting through items.

Left: Sorting through items recovered from the Ca Mau shipwreck. Photo: Nguyen Quoc Bihn.

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