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Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

The Manila Galleon Trade (1565–1815)

The so-called Manila Galleon (“Nao de China” or “Nao de Acapulco”) brought porcelain, silk, ivory, spices, and myriad other exotic goods from China to Mexico in exchange for New World silver. (It is estimated that as much as one-third of the silver mined in New Spain and Peru went to the Far East.) On the return leg, the precious Asian wares traveled across the Pacific, via the Philippines (colonized by Spain in the late sixteenth century), to Acapulco on Mexico’s west coast. They then crossed Mexico overland for shipment to Spain. However, much of the porcelain and carved ivory remained in the Americas and, in many cases, influenced artists working there: Mexican ceramics display the impact of the Galleon trade most vividly. But Chinese silk designs may have inspired some of the patterned garments of Guatemalan sculptures, whose faces also betray the subtle influence of Asian ivory carvings.