This book accompanies a major V&A exhibition that explores three hundred years of mutual fascination between East and West, a period of discoveries, encounters and exchanges initiated by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama's discovery of a sea route to India in 1948. This established, for the first time, direct relations between Europe and maritime Asia and ushered in a dynamic period of commercial, artistic and technological exchange.
This compelling story is presented through wide-ranging essays by leading international scholars, including specialists from the V&A. The text is complemented by a sumptuous range of images, many of these remarkable and luxurious pieces being published for the first time. Discoveries, the book's opening section, examines the western fascination for the materials and technologies of Asia, which existed even before direct contact was established, and charts the route that early Europeans took to the Indies and the new, sophisticated worlds they found there. Encounters, the second section, looks at the human dimension of the story, the meeting of peoples from East and West in different spheres, from highly formalised court audiences to intimate relationships. The exotic visitors from the West aroused much curiosity in Asia as demonstrated in the many Asian depictions of foreigners and their ships. This section also explores how these pale-skinned, strangely dressed peoples were perceived in the East and how images of them were appropriated into existing Asian iconographies. The final section, Exchanges, explores cross-influences in taste, technology and trade. In Europe there was an immediate demand for luxuries such as porcelain, lacquer and textiles made in Asia but suited to western living. In Asia, it was European technology that was most sought after. Clocks, guns, maps and lenses were all imported and simulated by different Asian cultures. In its close examination of the relationships - diplomatic, religious and personal - between East and West, this book provides both an important scholarly record of this vibrant period in world history and a beautiful document of the works of art and industry that it produced.
Published by V&A Publications, 2004
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