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Shipwreck Survivors in the DITSONG Ceramics Collection

Salvaged artefacts from an 18th century shipwreck

Compiled by: Corine Meyer

Research into identifying six ‘Batavian-style’ Chinese export porcelain tea bowls, 18th century, from the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History’s Ceramics collection, has revealed some interesting information. 

DITSONG Ceramics Collection HG 60956/1-6: Batavian style tea bowls probably from the Middelburg shipwreck

HG 60956/1-6: Batavian style tea bowls probably from the Middelburg shipwreck

PHOTO Corine Meyer
The bowls show minor stains, some changes in colour and texture on the outside (a slightly matte finish), and major loss of on-glaze decoration on the inside, resulting from wet burial conditions after the ship sank. One bowl has a brown stain on the white surface of the base, which is an immediate effect of a fire. The objects are, otherwise, in remarkably intact or complete condition without any disfiguring damage.

The bowls appear to have come from a sunken China trading vessel (most probably the Middelburg shipwreck – 1781).
     Each tea bowl is completely covered by brown iron glaze on the outside and white glaze on the inside. The inside (the well and cavetto) was originally hand-painted with floral sprays and a geometric diaper border in over-glaze colours. While this over-glaze decoration appears to be totally absent on the bowls, the fugitive floral design and faint enamelled colours (faded orange-pink and green) can be seen on one bowl and faint outlines can be seen on five of the bowls when they are held in the light at an angle. They were probably decorated in the ‘famille rose’ or Imari palette.

Cultural value

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