In the Company of Strangers: Danish Asiatic Trading Networks and Material Culture 1620-1780


Josefine Baark

PhD defended at: 




This thesis sets out to understand what was at stake in the visual changes arising from cross-cultural exchange between Denmark and Asia during early modern trade. By uncovering important, previously unstudied evidence relating to the century-and-a-half history of several types of artefacts, the thesis has contributed to a new understanding of the complexities of early modern commercial endeavours and brought to light a wealth of new artistic and technological material. Set out as seven chapters dealing with an array of chronological case studies from Denmark, China and India, my thesis is grouped into three sections, each addressing a separate theme; Section One: Neither Here Nor There unravels the events of the first physical and intellectual encounters with foreign nations and objects; Section Two: Cultural Contact Zones delineates the ways in which foreign peoples were portrayed; Section Three: Production for a Foreign Market looks at the way that increasing commercial demands from abroad impacted on art production and charts the invention of two hybrid commodities that resulted from cross-cultural contact. Porcelain ceramics, lacquer wares, illustrated travel accounts, wall decoration, textiles and sculptures traversed cultures and spaces through an intricate network in which the imperatives of diplomacy dissolved the boundaries of monolithic ‘cultures’ or ‘nations’. It is argued here that the emphasis on trade both enabled and encouraged the accumulation of ‘things’ rather than ‘information’. Hence, more can be understood about these cross-cultural encounters by tracking the geographic movements of these objects and ideas, which unfailingly combined disparate cultural elements into objects of desire that, no matter where they came to rest, were partially made elsewhere. The significance of the research presented in this thesis lies in both its contribution to our factual, historical knowledge about the condition of Danish Asiatic trade and its artefacts, and also in acknowledging the contributions of these artefacts to our understanding of the role played by imagination in the cultural encounter. Overall, this thesis demonstrates that creative innovation in the form, style and display of art was motivated and spurred on by a potent combination of economics, politics and fantasy. Ultimately, these underlying processes forged novel aesthetic changes in the crucible of early modern trade.