The Art of Trade

Today, traders from Asia and Europe haggle over handbags and cell phones, airplanes and nuclear-reactor construction deals. Four hundred years ago, the objects of desire were a little different, but the relationship between East and West was already underpinned by an intoxicating sense of commercial potential. An enormous gold-leaf, six-panel screen currently on display at London's Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A;) shows a Portuguese trading ship arriving amid great anticipation at a lively 17th century Japanese port. The rest of the story unfolds on the screen: the captain marches ashore under a ceremonial parasol, Portuguese dignitaries pay court to the feudal...

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