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Fig. 1.

Six Chinese

export porcelain

and a wine pot, ca. 1723-30.

bottom: the pear-shaped



one hole at the base of the spout and

Top: the Chinese Imari fluted, pear-

a steam vent on the cover. .lIade in

shaped teapots

Imperial China, p. 119, lot ,B3, Courtesy

have one hole at the base

of the spout and no steam vent on the

cover; middle: the pair of melon-shaped

have one hole at the base of the

spout and a steam vent on the cover;






Revelations of the Ca Mau Shipwreck:

Chinese Export Porcelain Teapots on the Cusp

This article presents teapots incorporating cutting-edgepractical advances found in the

same shipwrecked cargo with pots that do not exhibit them. This clearly demonstrates,
for thefirst time, that both types of teapots were made simultaneously. Previously, this
could only be a matter of conjecture.
A Chinese junk fully laden with cargo was plying the western

trade route between


1723 and 1735, when

(Canton) and Batavia (Jakarta) sometime


in her course along the coast of Vietnam she met a dramatic end.' The most likely
cause of her destruction

was fire, which escalated

into an inferno, as evidenced


piles of cast-iron woks that fused into a block of metal and several stacks of ceramics,
including teabowls, that melted into pillars of porcelain.f Piracy, a bolt of lightning
during a severe storm, or even a clumsy cook in the galley could have ignited the
fire, and the overloading of a cargo of heavy metallic objects and ceramics' must have

to the doomed vessel's final voyage to the depths of the South China Sea

about ninety miles south of Cap Ca Mau in southern Vietnam. Whatever precipitated
the wreck, which was discovered

by Vietnamese


in 1998, the so-called Ca

Mau cargo tells the story of the development of Chinese export porcelain teapots during the first decades of the eighteenth century, the early years of the golden age of
the China trade.
During the reign of the Yongzheng emperor
celain teapots were still largely Chinese
It was not until the mid-eighteenth
largely modeled on European

in inspiration,



export por-

in both shape and decoration.

century that the forms or their decoration



Before the Yongzheng period the standard

teapot had a single opening on the interior where the spout joins the body (thereby
allowing the tea leaves to accumulate in the spout, clogging it) and no perforation in
the cover to release the steam and allow the intake of air to facilitate pouring. While a
small hole for a steam vent began to appear on Chinese export porcelain teapot covers
as early as the late 1600s,4 it was not uniformly present until the 1730s. At the same
time teapots began to be made almost consistently with three small perforations or
strainer holes on the interior body at the base of the spout, which developed as a logi-

cal feature in the early years of the eighteenth

century.' By 1735 the newly improved

model with the perforated spout base and vented cover became the standard model
for all shapes of Chinese export porcelain teapots.
Significantly, the Ca Mau cargo contained

teapots not only of the earlier

type but also those in several different stages of innovation. Encapsulated

in the wreckage of one ship, these teapots represented


a significant change in teapot

Showing both the absence and presence of these two utilitarian develop-

ments, indicating that tea vessels at this moment were on the cusp of modernization,
their variety confirms the challenge that the Chinese and the Europeans faced in
their attempts to produce entirely functional and attractive tea-serving vessels for the

Figures 1 and 2a,b illustrate this

Figs. 2a,b. Nine Chinese


point. In Figure 1 all six teapots have a

porcelain tea wares, ca. 1725-35.

single hole at the base of the spout, but

only four have a steam vent on the cover.

and the spherical teapot (Fig. 2b) have

By contrast, the two teapots in Figures

spout and a steam vent on the cover.

2a,b have three

Made in Imperial China,


holes at the

base of the spout and a steam vent on the

cover. This second group of pieces shows

Both the pear-shaped

three perforations

teapot (Fig. 2a)

at the base of the

pp. 240 and 242, lots 1074-1086 and

1087-1094, respectively. Courtesy,

Sotheby's, Amsterdam.

greater sophistication in construction than

those in Figure 1, even though they were
all part of the same cargo. Further


more obvious dissimilarities

between these two groups of teapots include their shapes,

which range from fluted pear and melon to plain pear and spherical, and their patterns
and styles of decoration.


in form, internal construction,

and decoration

suggest that

these teapots not only were produced at different potting centers but most certainly
did not represent the fulfillment of a single company order. The coexistence of more
advanced models with those of a preexisting

of the supply of wares transported

at which the ceramists-the


type most likely resulted from the amalto Guangzhou

potters and painters-were

from various kiln sites


on instructions

by their masters, who in turn had received their orders from the European


and their Chinese

linguistic interpreters,

agents through drawings, prints, actual models, and

an exchange in which time, comprehension,

and inevitably eco-

nomics played significant roles. It is no surprise that the kiln masters at unrelated sites
made their teapots differently, depending on their understanding of, and willingness
or even ability to accommodate, the necessary innovations required by their current
Western instructions.
While these observations are consistent with those described in previous discussions of this subject," the discovery and analysis of the Ca Mau cargo confirms that
neither the Chinese porcelain producers nor the Asian and European consumers made
a sudden break with tradition when the functional innovations
types and forms of teapots continued
equally receptive

to be made and exported

markets over the first third of the eighteenth


Instead, all

to Europe and other

century, a theory that

was only a matter of conjecture.

Shirley Maloney Mueller, a member of the American Ceramic Circle Board of Directors,
is an independent scholar specializing in Chinese export porcelain. She lives in Indianapolis,
Indiana. Her e-mail


1. Nguyen Dinh Chien, The Ca JI1au Shipwreck,

1723-35 (Hanoi: Ca Mau Department of Culture

4. Shirley Maloney Mueller, "Lifting

and Information

Oriental Ceramic Society 71 (2006-7): 89-93.


and the National Museum


History, 2002), p. 90.

2. The stacks of fused teabowls, which had been

packed meticulously in pinewood barrels, have
been referred to as "sea sculptures"; for examples,
see JI1adein Imperial China: 76,000 Pieces of Chinese
Export Porcelain from the Ca JI1au Shipwreck, circa
1725, Sotheby's, Amsterdam, January 29-31, 2007,
pp. 43,153 and 169, lots 86, 551, and 702.
3. The salvage operation of the approximately
80-by-26-foot vessel, conducted between 1998
and 1999 by a Vietnamese diving and excavation
company working collaboratively with the Ca
Mau Provincial Museum, produced a wealth of
interesting artifacts, including wood, stone, and

Early Chinese

Export Teapots,"

the Lid:

Transactions of the

5. Shirley Maloney Mueller, "Eighteenth-Century

Chinese Export Porcelain Teapots: Fashion and
Uniformity," American Ceramic Circle 10urnal13
(2005): 5-16.
6. Shirley Maloney Mueller, "17th-Century
Chinese Export Teapots: Imagination and
Diversity," Orientations 36, no. 7 (2005): 59-65;
Mueller, "Eighteenth-Century
Chinese Export
Teapots"; and Mueller, "Lifting the Lid."

textile fragments, and 2.4 tons of metal objects,

from which emerged the earliest dated pieces
in the wreck: copper coins issued during the
Kangxi emperor's reign (1662-1722). The cargo,
however, was predominantly ceramics, and
130,000 pieces were rescued: stoneware from
Guangzhou, blanc de Chine from Dehua, and
biscuit, blue-and-white,
Imari, Batavian ware,
and enameled porcelain from Jingdezhen and
other Chinese potting centers, of which the latest
dated pieces were thirty-three blue-and-white
bowls and tea bowls with Yongzheng four- and
six-character reign marks (1723-35), examples
of which were included in ibid., pp. 50-51, lots
109-11. Additionally, there were blue-and-white
wine cups bearing the 4-character mark Ruo Shen
zhen cang, meaning "In the collection of Ruoshen,"
a mark normally used during the Kangxi period
(1662-1722); see "The Journey, the Fire and the
Salvage," in ibid., p. 8. While the precise date of
the junk's final voyage is unknown, it is these
marked pieces that help date the shipwreck to the
years 1723-35, and most likely to ca. 1725-28, the
last years before the Dutch East India Company
reentered the direct porcelain trade between the
:'(etherlands and Canton in 1729; see Christiaan

J. A. [org,

"The Ca Mau Porcelain Cargo," in ibid.,