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Dutch Colonial Batavian & Sri Lankan Silver
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Gold, Galleons & Jesuits: The Historical Links Between South America, India & Southeast Asia
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Among Europeans, the Spanish and the Portuguese have perhaps the longest histories of interacting directly with the peoples of East Asia. The Philippines, East Timor,
Malacca in Malaysia, Goa in India, coastal Sri Lanka and Macau were among the regions under Spanish or Portuguese control from the sixteenth century onwards. And
with Asia. The integration of the Philippines with Mexico perhaps was the most overt example.  It is not widely known, but from the sixteenth through to the early nineteenth
century, the Philippines was not ruled directly by Spain but was actually administered from Mexico.

Spain and Portugal’s conquest of America and parts of Asia in the sixteenth century was complemented by the establishment of additional trading outposts elsewhere. For
example, the Portuguese first established a presence in the then Siamese capital Ayutthaya during the reign of Ramathibodi II in 1511 AD. They brought with them
Christianity and technical prowess in canal building and surveying. The King allowed them to settle outside the capital in the Samphaolom sub-district. (The Thai
Government registered the site as a National Monument in 1938. Excavated objects such as Jesuit porcelain fragments and crucifixes are on display in the National
Museum in Bangkok today.)

The New Wold provided Spain and Portugal with immense wealth – massive new sources of gold and silver directly increased wealth but also allowed global trade to
increase – effectively the world’s money supply greatly increased with all the new bullion. This expansion in the global money supply allowed global trade to expand. The
gold and silver was sent to Europe but it also washed through Spain and Portugal’s other newly established colonies in India and East Asia.

Gems, ivory, tropical timbers, and tortoiseshell also were among the newly accessed commodities. The indigenous peoples of Portugal and Spain’s new dominions received
Christianity in return. This had a profound impact on their art, plus it lead to new forms of trade: Goa and Ceylon became important centres for Christian art with the
manufacture of carved ivory Holy Family figures and saints – items that were then traded across the Portuguese and Spanish empires from Mexico to the Philippines. New
techniques were introduced too. Silver and gold filigree work was already being produced on the Iberian peninsula but now Spain and Portugal placed orders for this type
of work among indigenous artisans.

The Jesuits were important too. They commissioned religious artworks in these new locations for export to their churches and monasteries elsewhere. Jesuit-themed
porcelain was commissioned from China via Macau for example and from there it found its way to Portugal, South America, India and the Philippines.

Trade between the colonies was important. In this way sixteenth century Asia had close commercial links with South America, demonstrating that globalisation is hardly a
new phenomenon. As mentioned, an important example was the trade links that developed between Mexico and the Philippines. These developed 400 years ago and
lasted for a 250-year period when a small fleet of Spanish ships known in Mexico as the
Nao de la China sailed the 9,000 nautical mile journey between the two - the so-
called Galleon Trade. Goods were traded directly by this means but also from other locations such as India, China, Japan and other parts of Southeast Asia. Items from
these locations first made their way to Manila and then on to Mexico. Spices, ivory, gemstones and porcelain were among the goods traded.

The Philippines was ruled by the viceroy of
Nueva Espana (as Mexico was then known) on behalf of Spain from 1565 to 1815: In 1565, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, a
Spaniard who had settled in Mexico led an expedition to the Philippines to subjugate the natives. He was made the governor of the new colony and in 1571, he captured a
settlement on Luzon which he renamed Manila. Each of Legazpi’s successors was a Mexican. Many of the prominent administrators, soldiers, missionaries, and traders in
the Philippines during this period also were born in Mexico.  Spain took over direct control of the Philippines in 1815 when the Mexicans started to fight for independence,
thus ending 250 years of Mexican rule over the Philippines.

Spain and Portugal became conduits for northern African art influences too. All or part of the Iberian peninsula was ruled by the Moors for around 800 years with Granada,
the last Moorish foothold in Spain, falling in 1492 – the same year that the Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus commenced his first voyage to the Americas.

The Moorish occupiers with their Islamic motifs and design elements had a profound and lasting influence on Portuguese and Spanish art. This Iberian-Islamic syncretism
was then carried to Mexico, Guatemala and Southeast Asia with Spanish and Portuguese conquest, so that some items from eighteenth century Mexico for example have
motifs that could easily pass for being Indian or Malay. Add on the effects of direct trade between the two regions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, migration
between the two, and the overlay of a shared experience of Catholicism and these two streams of art and culture – those of the Americas and those of Asia – which
seemingly are unrelated can be shown in fact to have significant linkages.
© Michael Backman Ltd
Tortoiseshell Betel Box with Engraved, Parcel-gilt Silver Mounts
Sri Lanka
late 18th century
Inventory no.: 1010
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Silver Filigree Paan Box
Goa, India or possibly Batavia
17th century
Inventory no.: 1554
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From where do we source our items? We do not go on buying trips to Asia. Nor do we actively buy from dealers or suppliers based in Asia. We do not source items
from India itself for example. Almost all the items stocked by Michael Backman Ltd have been sourced from the UK - from old collections. Countless items were brought to
the UK during the colonial era by colonial administrators and the like. Other items were made in Asia for export to the UK – the UK was wealthy early: it has been a major
destination for the world’s exports for hundreds of years.  This means that most of our items have been in the UK for at least sixty to two hundred years.

The conditions in which they have been kept often has been very good – the climate is kind, and there are relatively few pests. Many items were acquired as keepsakes
and curios, meaning that they stopped being used once they came to the UK. This too has helped to preserve them and their conditions often are far better than had they
remained in their home countries. Buying from old UK sources means that the items have good provenance; it helps to avoid fakes, and items that have been amended or
embellished. It also means that our items are obtained legally – today, most countries in Asia prohibit the export of their antiques. So, because of its colonial past, the UK is
perhaps the world’s biggest source of genuine antiques from Asia, perhaps more so than Asia itself, and that is the source into which we tap.

All the items on this page are available for sale. We are based in central London, but sell to clients around the world.  
Want to enquire about an item on this page?
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Massive Ebony-Inlaid Teak Document Box
Dutch Colonial Sri Lanka
late 17th-18th century
Provenance: The Lairds of Blair, Blair Castle, Scotland
Inventory no.: 1712
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Dutch Colonial Amboyna Wood & Red Lacquer Betel Box with Silver Mounts
Batavia, Dutch East Indies
late 17th-early 18th century
Inventory no.: 1716
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Satinwood & Mahogany Writing Box with Silver Mounts
Coromandel Coast, South India
17th-18th century
Inventory no.: 2325
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Dutch Colonial Betel Box of Ebony with Silver Mounts
Sri Lanka or Batavia
18th century
Inventory no.: 2825
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Amboyna Wood Betel Box with Silver Mounts
Batavia, Dutch East Indies
first half of the 18th century
provenance: Russian royal family, by repute
Inventory no.: 2722
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Pedestal Cup Modified from a Dutch Colonial Silver Betel Container
Batavia
1680-1700, and later
Inventory no.: 3380
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Fine Silver Filigree Box with Dutch Import Marks
Dutch Colonial Batavia, Dutch East Indies (Indonesia)
circa 1700
Inventory no.: 3718
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Dutch Colonial Betel Box of Amboyna Wood & Pierced Silver Mounts
Batavia, Dutch East Indies
18th century
Inventory no.: 3791
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