Adventurers of the seas

Wednesday 1er February 2017 : Adventurers of the seas conference visit to the Arab World Institute.

This exhibition is devoted to the discovery of seas and oceans, places of meetings and cultural and commercial exchanges. It is essentially focused on the contribution of the Arab world to offshore shipping.
At the end of antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages, seas and oceans are considered dangerous. The inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula, like the Westerners, venture there only cautiously although they are surrounded by three seas and an ocean, thinking that these waters are inhabited by monsters. Since ancient times two stories, common to the Bible and the Koran, reinforce these fears: the Flood and the story of Jonah and the whale. In addition, the discipline of geography does not exist yet, we do not really know where we go.
If the navigation on the Mediterranean existed for a long time, it is the Greeks, towards the 2st s. BC. JC, who discovered the principle of rocking the monsoon winds. Despite a strong demand for herbs, spices and other luxury goods, trade is still quite limited in Roman times. In addition, the presence of pirates increased with the intensification of maritime trade, especially in the area of ​​Bab-al-Mandab (strait from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean). Coastal trade was with East Africa for precious woods, ivory and slaves.

Construction of Noah's ark in Fal Nâmeh. Ink, watercolor and gold on paper. 1610-1630. Deccan. India.

Whales in the Theological Collection of Peraldus. Illuminated manuscript on vellum. 1236-1250. England.

Al-Hariith leaves for a distant journey. Al-Mâqâmat of Al-Hârith. Miniatures and calligraphy of al-Wasiti. Illuminated manuscript on paper. 1237. Basra. Iraq.

If the architecture of the boats on the Mediterranean is based on a transverse framework (frames on which are fixed the boards of the planking assembled with iron nails, then caulked), the shipbuilding of the Indian Ocean is based on a longitudinal principle (keel, bow, sternstand) established from the plating and it is only once the sealed outer shell made that the frames are introduced. The planks are fixed together by ligatures of vegetable fibers and reinforced by small pegs, all giving a light craft and a certain mechanical flexibility. The wreck of Belitung (Indonesia), dated 9st a dhow carrying Tang ceramics and precious objects would testify to direct maritime relations between Arabia and China.

Water pot. Glazed ceramic. 9th s. Changsha.Chine. From the wreck of Belitung.

Planispheric astrolabe. Brass. 15th s. Yemen.

Geography treatise of Claude Ptolemy, translation augmented by al-Khwarizmi. 1036-1037. Manuscript on paper.

The planisphere, as it can be reconstructed, places the South at the top and the Arab world at the center, but remains fairly precise on Europe and the Mediterranean. The Portuguese will establish portulans that have portions of coastline with distances to the scale that allow to make the point with the help of a ruler and a compass. Sailors played an important role in establishing reliable maps. The Catalan Atlas or Fra Mauro's World Map, both in the middle of the 15st s., show progress in the geographical knowledge of our planet.
the 7st s. at 11st The Fatimids of Egypt and the Umayyads of Spain reign over the Mediterranean (the Rmi sea), building arsenals, creating fleets and protecting the shores. They will face the Crusader fleets and the Byzantine fleets.

Presentation of the giraffe offered in Yongle. Ink and painting on silk. 16th s. China.

Bottle. Blown glass, golden and enamelled. 13th s. Syria.

Fragment of fabric made in India and found in a tomb in Fustat, Egypt. 15eme-16th s. Gujarat. India.

Winged vase. Earthenware with metallic luster. To 1465. Valence. Spain.

However, the sea remains a central space that separates but connects the Latin, Byzantine and Muslim worlds because trade continues despite everything. On the eastern side, the Abbasid caliphate will move its capital to Baghdad, ideally located at the crossroads of the maritime and land routes of "silk".
The wealth of the Venetians depends almost entirely on its trade with its Levantine or Egyptian partners. Spices, herbs, silk, ivory, precious stones and porcelains pass through Venice from Alexandria, Damascus or Beirut. For Europeans, the Indian Ocean was still inaccessible and the story of Marco Polo's trip to 13st s. feeds all dreams. One of the most valuable testimonies on the Indian Ocean is that of Ibn Battuta, who made a journey of about twenty years, visiting, among others, Persia, India, Ceylon, Sumatra, China and China. East coast of Africa. Under the Emperor Yongle of the Ming, Admiral Zheng-He (1371-1433) undertakes a journey that will take him to the Red Sea and East Africa from which he will bring a giraffe offered to the emperor.

Incense burner. Brass and engraved silver. 16eme-17th s. Syria or Egypt.

Albarelle. Siliceous ceramic with vegetable decoration and lily flowers with cobalt blue under cover. 14th s. Damascus. Syria.

Draper of the bazaar of Kufa in Makhzen el-esrar. Haydar Khwarizmi. Illuminated manuscript on paper. Beginning of the 16th century. Baghdad. Iraq.

Vase for the Muslim market. Decor cobalt blue and iron red under cover. Porcelain. 1506-1512. China.

Until 15st s. the contribution of Arab countries through trade is fundamental. Chinese silks were in high demand but Gujarat printed cotton goods are among the most important exchange products. Rhino horns, ostrich eggs, turtle shells, Seychelles nuts will feed curios cabinets until 17st s. Enamelled glasses from the Middle East and Egypt will serve as models for Venetian workshops and, from 15st s. Venice will export its production to Muslim countries. Half of the Venetian trade is with the Mamelukes of Egypt and the inlaid metal objects (damasquiné) come from Damascus or Cairo. The lustered ceramic with metallic reflections is a good example of cross-cutting techniques between East and West. Of Iraqi origin, the production develops in various countries around the Mediterranean but it is especially the workshops of Malaga in Spain which are essential and will give the idea to the Italians of Faenza to produce a lustered ceramic. Cobalt oxide, the "mohammedan blue", from Persia is used in earthenware from the Middle East from 9st s. and will prevail with the import of Chinese porcelain from the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), then the Ming (1368-1644). All the courts of Europe but also the Ottoman sultans and the Persian sovereigns dispute this porcelain "blue and white". Chinese artisans will even go so far as to create specific models and decorations to suit the tastes of their foreign customers. But the opposite, occurs when workshops in Europe and Muslim countries produce faience whose decor is inspired by Chinese models.
From 1488, the Portuguese double the Cape of Good Hope with Bartolomeu Dias and discover the Indian Ocean. Vasco de Gama (1469-1524) between 1497 and 1503 will undertake several trips and allow the establishment of counters, from India to Malaysia, and the creation of a true colony in Goa at the end of 16st s. The Lusitanian merchants are present in all Asian ports and thanks to them, the company of Jesus will also undertake an evangelization of the Indian Ocean that will not always be angelic. Portuguese caravels shipped ivory to Africa to sell in India and Asia. The Portuguese are commissioning works (ivory-encrusted furniture and ivory religious statues) that they are selling in Europe, and Indo-Portuguese art from Goa has been very successful until 17st s.

Model of San Gabriel, ship of Vasco de Gama.

The Good Shepherd. Polychrome ivory and gilding. Indo-Portuguese work. Beginning of the 17th century.

Detail of an altar panel mounted on a communion table. Ebony, rosewood, bones with ivory inlays. 17th s. Goa. India.

Still life in China vase (detail). Oil on canvas. Meiffren Conte. End 17th s. La France.

By bypassing Africa, the Portuguese will deprive the Middle East and Egypt of a part of the profits from the trade in spices, herbs and a large number of luxury goods but, above all, cause a substantial increase in the consumption in Europe of those products.

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