16 April 2011

Tales from the Deep

On both of our Stories of the World Family Days next week (Tuesday 19th and Wednesday 20th April), families can take part in our Tales from the Deep storytelling activity.

Tales from the Deep is based on the story of a shipwreck discovered by fishermen in 1998, off the Ca Mau peninsular in Vietnam. The wreck was of a Chinese ship known as a junk, which sank in about 1725, laden with cargo destined for the European market. There was great demand for Chinese porcelain in Europe at this time, especially to equip people to drink the newly fashionable tea.

The junk was carrying thousands of pieces of Chinese porcelain, probably ferrying them between Canton (Guangzhou) and the Dutch trading post of Batavia (now Jakarta). It is clear that much of this porcelain was destined for sale at European ports such as London or Amsterdam; some pieces are decorated with elements of traditional Dutch fishing villages, but executed in the Chinese style. As well as this intermingling of decorative influences, there were objects of European form, such as beer mugs.

Saucer, c.1725 (c) Geffrye Museum, London
Tea bowl, c.1725 (c) Geffrye Museum, London
The tea bowl and saucer pictured above were probably made in the city of Jingdezhen, China, which is famous for its porcelain production. Their decoration shows a scene in a garden with a pavilion and three figures, a man in military clothing walking with a woman, and a man in scholarly official robes emerging from behind the pavilion.

After 250 years on the seabed, much of this cargo has now been recovered. In fact, you can see some of it on display in the Geffrye’s 1745 parlour.

Even more excitingly, families taking part in our Tales of the Deep activity will be able to handle a tea bowl recovered from the wreck. Children can then make their own shadow puppets to retell the ship’s story.

Find more information about the tea bowl and saucer pictured in the Geffrye’s collections online here.

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