Cultural refraction through transpacific material exchange : Chinese porcelain and early Colonial Spanish America

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Keelin, Erin McClain

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This thesis frames the cultural development of late Ming China and Colonial Spanish America within the scientific model of light refraction, arguing that the deliberate inclusion of Chinese ceramics into the visual culture of nascent New Spain influenced its emerging cultural identity, and that the influx of American silver catalyzed advancements in Chinese ceramic production. Examining the transpacific exchange of material culture, this thesis uses visual analysis, connoisseurship, and historical testimonies to address cultural intersections between 1600 and 1700. Chinese porcelain with cobalt blue under clear glaze is known to have been consumed in the Eastern Hemisphere, but its presence in the Americas is relatively underrepresented, though increasingly garnering recognition as a result of recent excavations and exhibitions. Imported by the galleon trade from the Philippine port of Manila, colonialists used and treasured Chinese ceramics and absorbed characteristics of these foreign goods into local production. As New Spain refracted from its European origins, the colony developed a unique cultural identity informed, in part, by Chinese influences. As early Spanish American society flourished, Ming rule destabilized and kilns faltered with the absence of commissions. Cultural convergence via the transpacific trade refracted the course of Chinese ceramic production; the influx of American silver advantageously financed kilns’ new creative pursuits. American silver fueled the coastal economy, facilitated the rise of a new merchant class, and converted coastal economy to a specie-based economy. Kilns’ newly obtained artistic freedom encouraged the production of innovative motifs and shapes based on domestic merchant demand and foreign export trade, diverting from the traditional ware types for imperial and scholar-official consumption, and inspiring a new visual language for the early Qing dynasty.



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