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The Sydney Asian Art Series


We often think of artists and artworks as having stable identities: produced by a named artist, in a particular place, for a particular patron or market. These beliefs then shape what we think we know, or could know, about objects, their subjects and creators. Yet the historical reality of art is far messier, and far more exciting; objects, artists, and ideas moved across national and cultural boundaries, created between and from multiple cultures. This year’s Sydney Asian Art Series, Uncertain Objects: Trajectories of Asian Art, explores examples of such movement and multiplicity from across Asia and the world.

The program for Semester Two begins 23 August with Professor Timon Screech’s lecture, The Shogun’s Silver Telescope: Art in the First English Encounters with Japan, 1611-1616. In 1611, the East India Company in London planned a voyage to Japan, hoping finally to read that rich and fabled land. An appropriate gift was selected for the Japanese ruler, and when one of the ships duly arrived in 1613, Tokugawa Ieyasu was presented with a large, silver-gilt telescope, in the name of King James. It was the first telescope ever to leave Europe and the first built as a presentation object. Before news of this success was reported home, the English sent another ship, this time loaded with oil painting and prints. Screech’s talk will investigate the reasons for the Company’s interest in Japan, for the selection of these unexpected items, and for their impact in Japan.

On 18 October, Professor Nancy Um joins us for the fourth and final talk of the year with her lecture entitled Boxes Fit for Kings: Aromatic Gifts around the Late-Seventeenth- and Early-Eighteenth-Century Indian Ocean. Gilded glass bottles blown in India and porcelain flasks produced in Japan circulated around the Indian Ocean, filled with aromatic oils and packaged in custom-made boxes. These fragrant items were doled out as gifts by the Dutch East India Company, distributed to gain commercial leverage with high-profile recipients across an arena that stretched from the mountains of Ethiopia to the Qing Emperor’s court. This lecture follows these intriguing items from their diverse places of manufacture to their points of distribution and demonstrates their strategic power as bestowals.


2018 Program: ‘Uncertain Objects: Trajectories of Asian Art’







Lecture: The Shogun’s Silver Telescope: Art in the First English Encounters with Japan, 1611-1616.

Timon Screech | Professor of the History of Art at the University of London

When | Thursday 23 August, 2018, 6 – 7.30pm
Where | Old Geology Lecture Theatre, University of Sydney
RSVP | here.



Lecture: Boxes Fit for Kings: Aromatic Gifts around the Late-Seventeenth- and Early-Eighteenth-Century Indian Ocean

Nancy Um | Professor and Department Chair of Art History at Binghamton University

When | Wednesday 17 October, 2018, 6 – 7.30pm
Where | The Quadrangle, History Room S223, University of Sydney
RSVP | here.



Presented by

The Sydney Asian Art Series is presented by the University of Sydney’s China Studies Centre, The Power Institute, and VisAsia, with support from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Sydney Ideas.

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