The Ca Mau Shipwreck
The Ca Mau shipwreck refers to a Chinese cargo sunken sometime between 1723 and 1735 off the coast of Vietnam’s farthest point in the South China Sea, discovered by Vietnamese fishermen in 1998. It is believed the wreck was a Chinese merchant’s junk on its way from Canton (Guangzhou) to Batavia when it caught fire and sank. The merchant had ordered the goods on board for Dutch traders, who had limited access to China and its ports.
Porcelain for the European Market
The Ca Mao shipwreck cargo consisted in numerous types of porcelain, chinaware and blue and white wares, all designed for the European market. Blue and white ceramics recovered from the cargo appear decorated with the so-called ‘Scheveningen landscape’, also known as ‘Deshima décor’. This motif usually depicted a traditional Dutch fishing village, executed in Chinese style. Chinese wares with Western motives were extremely popular and made to order and were known as ‘China de commande’.
Dating has always been the most challenging aspect when researching a shipwreck site. However, with the Ca Mau shipwreck archaeologists have been lucky. Coins dating from the Kangxi Period (1662-1722) have been recovered from the wreck. Furthermore, a group of wine cups have been recovered from the wreck, featuring a four-character Yongzheng mark, indicating that they were made during the Emperor Yongzheng`s reign, which lasted from 1723 to 1735.
Kangxi and Yongzheng Period
Blue and White porcelain recovered from the Ca Mau shipwreck have been initially dated to the Kangxi Period. However recent studies show how such production might need to be referred to the Yongzheng period, re-establishing the importance and output of Chinese porcelain production during the Yongzheng period. The wares recovered from the Ca Mau cargo are porcelain meant to be exported to Europe, therefore popular patterns and styles were used and repeated as long as the demand continued. It was indeed the changing demands of customers that brought changes in style from the Kangxi period to the Yongzheng Period.