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The Dutch East India Trading Company in Asia
Cornelis de Bruyn (1652-1726/7) was a Dutch painter and travel writer who wrote and illustrated accounts of his extensive travels in the Near and Far East. Shown here is the 1737 English translation of his second book, which originally appeared in Dutch in 1711. Here de Bruyn depicts Batavia (modern Jakarta), the headquarters of the Dutch East India Trading Company. This depiction is not as detailed as the illustrations seen elsewhere in this exhibit. At the same time, it is not as romanticized as the earlier Dutch views since de Bruyn's engravings were based on original paintings made in situ, and as such are more reliable as evidence of the actual landscapes. Nevertheless, because of the importance its composition grants the European ship in the foreground, the image emphasizes Batavia's role as a Dutch trading post, rather than as a place where the Javanese lived and worked.
A significant proportion of what Europeans learned about Asia came through accounts of the business activities of the Dutch East India Trading Company. This was particularly true in the case of Japan, where the Dutch were the only Europeans allowed to trade until well into the nineteenth century. One of the most popular of the Dutch works was Arnoldus Montanus's 1669 book based on a mid-seventeenth century Company mission to Japan. The work reached a wide audience, being published in nine editions and four languages in the following years. The son of a sailor turned bookseller, Montanus (1625?-1683) inherited passions for remote places and books, but instead of gathering his information by traveling, he stayed in Amsterdam and collected stories from Company personnel. Montanus, along with Olfert Dapper, collaborated with the printer-engraver Jacob Meurs on a series of beautifully illustrated books on different regions of the world, drawing upon the extensive Dutch overseas experience and the abilities of Dutch landscape artists. The chief attractions of the Japan volume are its numerous maps and town views, which are among the earliest visual representations of Japanese life widely available in Europe. On display is the view of Iedo (modern Tokyo). The attention to detail in buildings, costumes, accessories, postures, methods of travel and rooflines suggest that these views were based upon direct knowledge of the country. At the same time, in composition and style, the view is not unlike Dutch landscape painting from the same period.
A generation later, Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716) took a more consistent and thorough approach in his two-volume History of Japan. During the two years he spent in Japan as a physician for the East India Company, Kaempfer went to great lengths to build relationships of trust with the Japanese with whom he came into contact. The result was the most knowledgeable and sympathetic description of Japanese culture written by a European before the nineteenth century. Kaempfer's map of the Japanese islands is notable both for its knowledge of Japanese geography and political subdivisions, and for its use of Japanese characters and illustrations in a style inspired by Asian art. Such cultural respect was unusual for European works of the time.
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