Vung Tau

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One of the most sought-after imports in the 17th century was Chinese porcelain. The National Museum of Decorative Arts is home to several items found among the remains of the wreck of the Chinese vessel the Vung Tau, sunk off the coast of Vietnam, near the Con Dao archipelago, in around 1690.

The vessel's route was supposed to start in China, stopping at the trading port of Canton (China) to pick up the remaining goods, and continue on to the port of Batavia (now Jakarta), on the island of Java and, at that time, a Dutch colony. But the Chinese ship failed to reach its final destination due to a fire on board. It sank and the items of porcelain it was transporting – including the 31 pieces currently housed in the National Museum of Decorative Arts – lay on the seabed for over 300 years. They were recovered following an important archaeological excavation in 1991, and a small part was acquired by the Spanish State.

They all belong to the so-called "blue and white" decorative style and were manufactured at the kilns in Jingdezhen (China), chronologically corresponding to the period of the Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

Since the 16th century, China had traded extensively with Portugal and Spain. In the 17th century, colonial dominance in the East was taken over by the Dutch and the British. These circumstance brought about changes in the products exported; typical Chinese decoration was modified in favour of European styles.

The items from the Vung Tau still retain some Far-Eastern characteristics such as the partitioning of decoration into panels of floral motifs or scenes of landscapes with riverside rocks, and some typologies such as Kendi, and Meiping and Gu vases.

From the mid-18th century, Western influence on all exotic Eastern items was such that a decorative trend spread all over Europe until the 19th century: chinoiserie.