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For thousands of years, the cultures of Asia have traded, interacted, and exchanged ideas. Many works of art in this section show global demand and evidence of shifting tastes as traders moved from region to region. It also tells us how special objects were ...
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For thousands of years, the cultures of Asia have traded, interacted, and exchanged ideas. Many works of art in this section show global demand and evidence of shifting tastes as traders moved from region to region. It also tells us how special objects were eagerly sought in lands far away, and how new works of art were created through the blending of different sources.
Many of these objects were made primarily for the European markets, but royal courts in China, India, and Southeast Asia were also important patrons and consumers of artworks. Some of these courts formed collections that included works from different cultures. The arrival of Europeans, who set up trading “companies” in many Asian port cities, also spurred production and trades in artworks.
In many cases, objects were produced for trade and export. Other examples document the desire for beauty, or the fascination with exotic materials and techniques. It is useful to be reminded that global networks of trade were already active in Asia two thousand years ago. These encounters between cultures have shaped our world, and affect the way objects look.
This cabinet is veneered with polished tortoiseshell panels backed with gold leaf, which gives the material extra luminosity. The carved and gilded stand was made specifically to support this extraordinary cabinet.
The form of this casket is based on a European model commonly seen in the early 16 century. The mother-of-pearl plaques have been cut into nearly identical shapes, and are held in place with silver pins. Great skill and specialised techniques were required to cut and polish mother-of-pearl. Gujarat, in western India, was famous for producing a range of different objects, for both Indian and foreign buyers. Such caskets were typically used to store small valuable items.
Hong bowls were produced by Chinese artists for foreign merchants to take back home as souvenirs of their stay in China. This one shows the lively waterfront of Canton (now Guangzhou), the busiest Chinese port at the end of the 18th century. The buildings along the water are the hongs - offices and residences of Western trading companies. Flags identify the warehouses as British, Dutch, Holy Roman, and Swedish. The American flag is missing, so we assume the bowl was made before the first American company arrived in 1788.
For centuries, the scholar represented an ideal in Chinese culture. Great respect was accorded to individuals who could read classical texts, write and paint, play music, pursue academic studies, and demonstrate elegance and grace. Whether a civil servant, a successful merchant, or an overseas Chinese, learned individuals played a key role in Chinese culture.