The Ming Robe that (sort of) Made it to Canada

Daoist Robe, Unknown Artist, China, 17th Century
Silk and Metallic thread
The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Gift of Florance Waterbury, 1943 ; 43.144

One of the underlying reasons for European expansion into the Americas was the pursuit of a westward passage to Asia. China, particularly, held a place of wonder in the minds of Europeans who began to imitate its signature goods in what became termed “Chinoiserie.” Although for Europeans, the East was a trading partner providing goods such as spices, tea, and ceramic china, some of the goods that flowed out from the east were harder to come by and therefore less a commodity to be traded than an artifact or a curio that, inevitably, inspired European imitation.

One such item that inspired Chinoiserie were the silk robes worn by courtiers in the Ming dynasty court. In their original context they were a symbol that communicated a social status. The Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci, had to repeatedly petition his superior, Father Valignano, head of the Jesuit mission in Asia, for the ability to wear such robes so as to gain access to the imperial Chinese court.  The robe he wore was likely similar to the one pictured. Ricci picked the robes of a Daoist to communicate his role as a priest, albeit of an entirely different faith.

Although the French sericulture industry was created by Chinese silk work that had made it to Europe prior to the late 16th century, it was the Jesuit missions of 1582 that began shipping Ming Court robes to Europe that reinforced the French practice of imitating Chinese cloth. British travel writer, John Evelyn, came across Ming robes shipped by Jesuits as they stopped over in London on their way to Paris. In his diary from 1641-1697, he described robes having “splendor and vividness we have nothing in Europe that approaches it.” 

The french imitation cloth came to be known as ‘Damas de la Chine’ and was frequently worn among French nobles to demonstrate wealth and status. An important moment frequently used by historians to demonstrate the importance of China on the Global stage in the early to mid 17th century is that of Jean Nicollet. He was supposed to have met with the native tribes of Wisconsin  wielding pistols and wearing a Chinese robe. Historians recount this story to suggest that Nicollet likely thought he was to have set foot in China and was dressed to appear in Ming court.

This story likely arose due to a series of mistranslations. What Nicollet probably wore was not a ‘robe’ but a cape of ‘Damas de la Chine.’ This fit his ambassadorial role as the first French ambassador to make contact with this tribe. Nicollet was dressed in the formal attire of a French gentleman of his time.

Ming robes still serve to demonstrate the currency that China had in European minds. Nicollet wore a cape made out of a French imitation of a Chinese cloth as he was in a pursuit of a westward passage to China achievable by ship. In a sense he doubly demonstrated the importance of China to Europeans. Chinese exports like the Ming robes inspired European industry in chinoiserie as well as fueling the European desire to push westward through the new world.


Brook, T. The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China. ACLS Humanities E-Book. University of California Press, 1999.

Brook, Timothy. “Vermeer’s Hat.” In Vermeer’s Hat, 49–51. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008.

Evelyn, John. “Diary of John Evelyn.” In The Diary of John Evelyn, 1:372–74. Washington and London: Walter Dunne, n.d.

Fontana, Michela. Matteo Ricci : A Jesuit in the Ming Court. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011.

Jacobson, D. Chinoiserie. Phaidon Press, 1999.

Jung, P.J. The Misunderstood Mission of Jean Nicolet: Uncovering the Story of the 1634 Journey. Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2018.

Patrick Jung, and Nancy Oestreich Lurie. “The Chinese Robe and Other Myths.” Voyageur :Historical Review of Brown County and

Black Drink and Native American Alcohol Use

Theodor de Bry, Belgium, 1590
Copperplate engraving
Getty Research Institute

Jacques Le Moyne was a French artist and cartographer who in 1564 traveled to an ultimately unsuccessful French colony in modern-day Florida. Much of his fifteen-month stay in Florida was spent with the native Timucuans. He spent this time creating depictions of the Timucuans and making maps of the area (near present-day Jacksonville). Unfortunately, in 1565 during a Spanish siege on the French fort, Fort Caroline, Le Moyne lost the majority of his work. After sailing back to France and eventually settling in England as a Huguenot refugee, Le Moyne recreated many of his drawings from memory. Shortly after his death in 1588, his drawings were acquired and reproduced as engravings by Theodor de Bry.


De Bry’s engravings are questioned for their veracity due to their dubious connection to Le Moyne’s original drawings, but, despite their likely embellishment, they cannot be understood as complete fabrications of Timucuan culture. This particular engraving depicts a Timucuan chief preparing his soldiers for battle by preparing black drink. Black drink is a name used for various ritual drinks used by Native Americans. It usually contained a relatively large amount of caffeine or a small amount of alcohol by today’s standards.


There exists a strong cultural association between Native Americans and a biological predisposition to alcohol abuse, but modern studies are challenging that conception. Instead, scholars are looking at other factors that may have contributed to an increased rate of alcohol consumption among Native Americans in comparison to non-Native Americans. One of the factors that may explain this discrepancy is the prominence of these black drink rituals.


In pre-Columbian America, alcohol use was strictly ritualistic. Also, as we have stated previously, the alcohol content of black drink and other alcoholic beverages in pre-Columbian America was much lower than that of the alcohol brought over by Europeans. When stronger European alcohol became available in relative abundance Native peoples had no infrastructure in place for its regulation. Native Americans’ higher incidence of binge drinking may be linked to the historical use of alcohol as a ritualistic spiritual aid. This is just one of the many possible explanations for the high prevalence of Native American alcoholism. Some scholars even suggest that alcohol use evolved into a method of protest for Native Americans.


The stereotype of the drunken Indian is a prominent and harmful one for Native Americans. It paints Native Americans as immoral pleasure seekers who would rather escape from reality than adjust to the ever-changing modern world. Yes, alcohol use played a part in the decline of the Native American, but its overuse by Native Americans can be explained by a variety of cultural factors, including the nature of Native American use of black drink and other psychoactive substances. 




Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne, and Dina Gilio-Whitaker. “All the Real Indians Died off” : And 20 Other Myths about Native Americans. Boston : Beacon Press, [2016], 2016.


French, Laurence Armand. “Psychoactive Agents and Native American Spirituality: Past and Present.” Contemporary Justice Review 11, no. 2 (June 2008): 155–63.


“Le Moyne de Morgues, Jacques (1533-1588), Artist and Cartographer | American National Biography.” Accessed December 9, 2018.


“Theodor de Bry | Admiranda Narratio Fida Tamen, de Commodis et Incolarvm Ritibvs Virginiae : Nvper Admodvm Ab Anglis. . . (1590) | Artsy.” Accessed December 10, 2018.

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Johannes Vermeer, the Netherlands, 1665.
Oil on canvas.
Mauritshuis, inv. no. 670

One of the most captivating paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earringis a troniefeaturing a beautiful young woman wearing foreign dress, a blue and yellow turban, and an impossibly large pearl earring. As a tronie, the painting depicts an imaginary figure. She appears to be either turning away from or facing the viewer, at once foreign and intimate. Her luminescent pearl earring lends the painting an otherworldly quality and signals the broader Dutch obsession with pearls in the 17th century.

Vermeer was a technical master of light and reflections. His other paintings depict figures in enclosed spaces with singular sources of light. He included multiple layers of oil paint to produce a luminous sfumatoeffect, a hazy contour. Girl with a Pearl Earringembodies Vermeer’s artistic prowess. The massive pearl earring catches the light and refracts it across the woman’s beautiful face. Her slightly parted lips contain a sheen in the upper left corner, demonstrating how the pearl illuminates her sensuous face. The interplay of light and darkness creates an intimate atmosphere between the viewer and the painting’s enigmatic figure.

A famed painter of the Dutch Golden Age, Vermeer produced art at the peak of the Dutch maritime empire. The Dutch ended war with Spain in the 1648 Treaty of Münster, enabling the Dutch to operate freely in Eastern markets. Throughout the 17thcentury, the Dutch expanded trade through the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and gained a monopoly on the pearl trade in the East. Pearls became popular status symbols in the Netherlands, embodying the exotic beauty of the East. Just as the tulipmaniacraze saw Dutch elites paying exorbitant prices for tulips, the Dutch Golden Age saw elite similarly pining for pearls. Pearls contained a foreign mystique and were thus desirable objects. Vermeer often painted pearls in conjunction with women, drawing a parallel between the pearls’ milky beauty with the ideal woman’s moral purity.

Girl with a Pearl Earringis notable not only for its superb painting technique, but also for its reflection of European self-image. The woman’s turban, dress, and pearl earring are all symbols of foreignness to the European viewer, yet the woman’s beautiful European face is familiar. The figure in Girl with a Pearl Earringembodies Europe— specifically the Dutch— on the precipice of a new, globalist age. Conflating European standards of beauty with Eastern “exoticism,” the Europeans came to embrace foreign influences. Girl with a Pearl Earring’s tension between Eastern and Western beauty is what captivates viewers.


Atlas of World History. Edited by Patrick K. O’Brien. New York: Oxford UP, 2002.

Brook, Timothy. Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2008.

Gifford, E. Melanie. “Painting Light: Recent Observations on Vermeer’s Technique.” In Vermeer Studies, edited by Ivan Gaskell and Michiel Jonker, 185- 199. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1998.

Price, J.L. Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. Reaction Books, 2011.

Sluiter, Engel. “Dutch Maritime Power and the Colonial Status Quo, 1585- 1641.” Pacific Historical Review11, no. 1 (1942). Accessed November 29, 2018.*.html.

Vermeer, Johannes. Girl with a Pearl Earring. 1665. Oil on canvas. Mauritshuis, the Hague. November, 13, 2018.

Klapmuts with Flowering Plants and Auspicious Objects



Anonymous, China, c. 1680-1720.
porcelain, glaze, cobalt.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. AK-RBK-15808-B

The klapmuts soup bowl was named after the broad-rimmed felt hats Dutch peasants traditionally wore during the Dutch Golden Age (c. 1600-1700). Artisans in the Chinese Ming and Qing dynasties produced klapmuts for Dutch markets. While the Chinese consumed their broth-like soup directly from the bowl, the Dutch were forbidden to lift their bowls during meals. The klapmuts’ shallow body and broad rim allowed European eaters to use a spoon. The Chinese imbued their carefully-crafted porcelain exports with Chinese symbolism, leading the Dutch to consider klapmuts objects of good fortune. Klapmuts were prized in the Netherlands as signs of cosmopolitan wealth.

Chinese artisans aspiring after shengong— divine worksmanship— produced klapmuts bowls. These delicate blue-and-white porcelain bowls had an ivory glaze and bore no trace of the potter’s hand. When blue-and-white pottery gained popularity in Europe, Chinese kilns became centers of unprecedented production. Chinese artisanship remained more than mere production; it was a way to honor the dynasty through artistic prowess. It was a significant source of dynastic pride to produce high-quality pottery on a large scale.

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) acquired klapmuts bowls through trade with China, marketing them in the Netherlands as “exotic” and “auspicious.” Chinese-produced klapmuts pervaded Dutch culture as status symbols, becoming staple pieces in still life paintings and aristocratic homes. The popularity of klapmuts bowls spurred Dutch reproductions of Chinese pottery. However, Delft-style klapmuts were not of the same caliber as Chinses klapmuts.

This particular bowl bears the “auspicious” image of a vase containing peacock feathers. Peacocks were the symbol of the Ming Dynasty, representing elegance and divine beauty. Peacock feathers served as status markers, as Chinese military and government officials wore peacock plumes in their hats. Members of the Chinese elite owned vases with small gaps to showcase the feathers’ fine quills.  The “auspicious” image of peacock feathers was thus conflated with Chinese imperial power.

Furthermore, the image of a vase containing peacock feathers allowed artisans to demonstrate their superb technique. Klapmuts were fine pottery, and painting a vase with peacock feathers was an ambitious undertaking. The vase with peacock feathers enabled artisans to express their technical skills and honor their dynasty.

The klapmuts bowl is a remarkable emblem of an emerging global mindset in the early modern period. The Chinese tailored their products for a global market, accommodating Dutch cultural needs through the bowl’s design. Simultaneously, the Chinese asserted their imperial might by including “auspicious” images of peacock feathers. The production and artisanship behind the klapmuts bowls demonstrate a marked awareness of Dutch-Chinese interdependence on the global stage.


Bowl (klapmuts) with flowering plants and auspicious objects. 1680-1720. Porcelain. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. October 12, 2018.,53.

Brook, Timothy. Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2008.

Chow, Fong. “Symbolism in Chinese Porcelain: The Rockefeller Bequest.” October 12, 2009).

Hay, Jonathan. Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 2010.

Welch, Patricia Bjaaland. Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery. Singapore: Tuttle Publishing, 2008.



Peyote and Diabolism in New Spain

Huichol Figure of Elder Brother

Unknown artist, Mexico. c. Late 1800s.

Clay and pigment.

Central American Ethnographic Collection, American Museum of Natural History.

Figure. Place: American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York. Donor: Lumholtz, Carl, Dr..

PROVENANCE: Figure collected by Dr. Carl Lumholtz during a trip to northern Mexico in the 1890s, sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History. Acquired by the American Museum of Natural History in 1894 from donor Dr. Carl Lumholtz.

Psychedelic plants are not often associated with religion. Indigenous peoples of the Americas, however, have utilized the hallucinogenic cactus peyote in religious ceremonies for centuries. This figure depicts Elder Brother, known as the god of peyote to the Huichol Indians of Mexico. Though this figure was created in the late 1800s, the use of peyote in indigenous religious practices is believed to have begun as early as 4220 BCE. In the seventeenth-century, peyote practices were interrupted with the arrival of the Spanish in what would be known as New Spain. While peyote practices of most native peoples came under attack by Spanish colonists, the Huichol people escaped Spanish rule by fleeing to nearby mountains. This figure is an important symbol of the indigenous religious beliefs which the colonists feared and attempted to suppress. 

Spanish colonists attributed the psychological effects of peyote to the work of the Devil. Peyote contains mescaline, a compound resembling LSD that places users in a state of altered reality and induces visual hallucinations. While the indigenous peoples believed that these effects were instances of contact with religious figures, the Spanish believed that these visions were about the Devil or came directly from him. Colonists also viewed peyote as a vehicle for idolatry. They concluded that the plant was either treated as a god or as an instrument through which the native peoples worshiped the Devil. Furthermore, the Spanish feared that the indigenous peoples could harness the Devil’s power, which they encountered in their use of peyote, to perform witchcraft in retaliation against colonial rule.

The colonial fear of peyote was heightened with the realization that the cactus could also affect the Spanish people. Not only had Spanish colonists begun to use peyote, but a fusion of Christianity with peyote rituals had also resulted in new syncretic practices. Although Spanish colonists and indigenous peoples alike claimed that they used peyote to see Christian figures, the combination of Christianity with presumed diabolical influence was seen as heresy by leaders of the Inquisition.

The Inquisition’s distaste for the native peoples’ religious use of peyote culminated in the 1620 peyote ban. However, this would not be the last time that a decree regarding peyote use was issued. Throughout the early twentieth century, Christian missionaries still fought to eradicate any remaining peyote use in the United States. In response, Native Americans formed the Native American Church to protect their right to use peyote in religious ceremonies. Peyote was once again banned when declared a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. It wasn’t until 1993 when Native Americans were granted the right to use peyote for religious purposes. Part of what is so notable about the history of peyote is how its perception by Spanish colonists still impacts its sociopolitical status in modern American society.

Works Cited:

Alarcón, Ruiz de, Hernando J. Richard Andrews, and Ross Hassig. Treatise on the Heathen Superstitions that Today Live Among the Indians Native to this New Spain, 1629. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984, 43.

Cervantes, Fernando. The Devil in the New World: The Impact of Diabolism in New Spain. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Curatorial Notes on Figure. Mexican & Central American Ethnographic Collection. American Museum of Natural History. New York, New York. Accessed on December 8, 2018.

Dawson, Alexander. “Peyote in the Colonial Imagination.” In Peyote: History, Tradition, Politics, and Conservation, edited by Beatriz Caiuby Labate and Clancy Cavnar, 43-62. Santa Barbara: Praeger/ABC-CLIO, 2016.

Halpern, John H., Andrea R. Sherwood, James I. Hudson, Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, and Harrison G. Pope. “Psychological and Cognitive Effects of Long-Term Peyote Use Among Native Americans.” Biological Psychiatry, Vol. 58 (2005): 624-631.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia. “Peyote: The Divine Messenger.” Season 2, Episode 2. Produced by Hamilton Morris and Bernardo Loyola. Viceland. December 2017.

Lewis, Laura A. Hall of Mirrors: Power, Witchcraft, and Caste in Colonial Mexico. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

MacLean, Hope. “The “Deified” Heart: Huichol Indian Soul-Concepts and Shamanic Art.” Anthropologica 42, no. 1 (2000): 75-90. doi:10.2307/25605959.

“Outlawing of Peyote by the Spanish Inquisition.” In “Peyote and the Mexican Inquisition, 1620.” By Leonard, Irving A. American Anthropologist, New Series, 44, no. 2 (1942): 324-26.

Smythies, J. R. “The Mescaline Phenomena.” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 3, no. 12 (1953): 339-47.

Cloves and African Involvement in the Early Modern Spice Trade

Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco da Gama to India, 1497−1499

African involvement in the Spice Trade was minimal before Vasco da Gama’s journey around the Cape of Good Hope. At this time, trade between Europe and Asia was flourishing, and European countries were becoming more and more dependent on Asian production as demand for spices increased. However, some spices of particular value to Europe, such as cloves, were simultaneously being developed in Africa and had yet to be exported into the larger spice trade. Vasco da Gama’s exploration throughout the Swahili coast brought to the Portuguese a new sense of appreciation for African potential in the spice trade. Through this, Portugal’s ultimately gained control of African spice exports, bringing countries like Zanzibar an opportunity to develop their manufacture of cloves on a larger scale. This resulted in Zanzibar’s role as a leading clove exporter by the nineteenth century.

The Spice Trade was a pillar of early modern globalism, broadening European economies to an intercontinental scale and connecting European and Asian cultures through food. A range of spices poured into Europe from China, Indonesia, and India that introduced flavor into the European diet and novelty into their medicine. Nutmeg, pepper, ginger, cloves, and more were “believed to cure disorders of the stomach, the intestines, the head, and the chest, and were also used to aid digestion.” Spices were also used in various ways through cooking, helping to preserve meat, mask undesirable odors, and add flavor to food. These multifaceted spices were of great value to populations throughout the European continent, and travelers went to great lengths to bring them to the market. Prior to Vasco da Gama’s voyage in the Indian Ocean, the Spice Route centered around a number of different cities throughout Asia. However, in 1498, when Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and arrived in Calicut, he prompted a new age of Euro-Asian trade for Portugal, as well as introducing a larger role for African countries in the spice trade.

Da Gama introduced new trade partners for Portugal in various African countries along the Swahili coast, including Zanzibar. This expedition established the Cape Route through the Indian Ocean, a new lifeline to African and Indian spices in which Portugal “promptly exercised the right to its exclusive use.” Vasco da Gama’s 1498 voyage reveals much about the spice trade, and the Portuguese eye for economic potential in Africa. While stopping in modern-day Kenya, da Gama encountered merchants from India in search of their own spices. This city was full with “quantities of cloves, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper,” suggesting that the spice trade was well underway in Africa by the time da Gama arrived, despite its focus in Europe and Asia. Ultimately, Portuguese involvement in Africa brought African spice development to considerable prominence in the Spice Trade throughout the early modern era.


Da Gama, Vasco. “Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco Da Gama to India, 1497−1499.” World Digital Library,

A Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco Da Gama, 1497–1499, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010, pp. 48. Cambridge Library Collection – Hakluyt First Series.

Prakash, Om. “Spices and Spice Trade.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History, Oxford University Press, 2005.

Cacao’s Connection to Christianity and Its Roots as Currency

El Señor del Cacao (Christ of Cacao).
Unknown maker, Mexico City, c. 16th century.
Painted stone.
The Cathedral of Mexico City.

This statue features Jesus Christ holding a small cacao branch with gold leaves, from which it derives its name: Christ of Cacao. The statue, located in Mexico City’s cathedral, draws devotees from across the nation, many of whom leave offerings of chocolate at the base of the pedestal, as shown in the image. While this might seem like an odd donation to leave at Christ’s feet, chocolate has a long history of religious connotation in Central America.

Amerindians in Central America in the 15th century prized cacao as a currency because of the delicacy it produced—chocolate—and for its religious significance. They utilized it as currency because of its convenience: the beans were abundant enough that people had ready access to them, yet rare enough that they could act as a standard, much like gold does today. Up until the arrival of the Spanish, the Amerindians treated the cacao like money. The tribes who had more cacao trees on their land had greater weight with the other tribes because they had more money. When the Spanish arrived, the Europeans immediately strove to seize the cacao production and thus control the market.

The cacao’s product, chocolate, however, truly gave the bean special significance. The upper classes drank the hot drink at political banquets and during religious rituals; its presence was required during the signing of treaties. The Amerindians demanded chocolate’s appearance at these important events because they believed it had mystical powers.

The Popol Vuh is a Mayan epic that prominently features cacao. It tells the story of the maize god—the main Mayan god, whose crop provided their daily sustenance—whose skin is often depicted as being embedded with cacao pods. His journey requires him to spend time in the underworld, and when he emerges to the light once again, he comes through a grove of cacao trees, which often grew by the entrances to caves. For the Amerindians, then, the cacao was an important symbol of rebirth.

The Spanish, upon, their arrival, instantly recognized the similarities in the maize god’s journey and that of Christ, and manipulated those similarities to help spread Christianity and more easily control the local populace. They integrated the maize god’s story into Christ’s, forever connecting the two alongside the idea of cacao’s relationship with rebirth. This integration of religions came with numerous advantages for the Spanish. Specifically, it meant that when Amerindians left cacao offerings at the feet of statues of Jesus and saints, the priests could collect those offerings, amass them, and grow wealthy. Conquest for the Spanish came more easily when they could buy the people rather than fight them.

Thus Christ and cacao are forever intertwined in Central American history, and the statue of Christ holding cacao still draws offerings of chocolate today.


Image: Unknown. c. 16th century. “El Señor del Cacao.” Mexico City, Cathedral of Mexico City. “Weaponizing Cacao.” Chocolate Class: Multimedia Essays on Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. (20 February 2015). Accessed 6 Dec. 2018.

Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel. “The Good and Evil of Chocolate in Colonial Mexico” In Chocolate in Mesoamerica : A Cultural History of Cacao, edited by Cameron L. McNeil, 273-88. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.

Aliphat, Mario and Laura Caso Barrera. “The Itza Maya Control over Cacao” In Chocolate in Mesoamerica : A Cultural History of Cacao, edited by Cameron L. McNeil, 289-306. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.

Earle, Rebecca. The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race and the Colonial Experience in Spanish America, 1492-1700. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Martin, Simon. “Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion” In Chocolate in Mesoamerica : A Cultural History of Cacao, edited by Cameron L. McNeil, 273-88. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.

Chocolate: The International Sensation

Joseph-Théodore Van Cauqenbergh, Paris, France 1774
Silver, aramanth wood
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.
Van Cauqenbergh, Joseph-Théodore. Chocolate Pot. 1774. Silver, aramanth wood. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland. 1948.

Provenance: John Alfonse Walter, Aux Cayes, Haiti, prior to 1793, [mode of acquisition unknown] [1827 inventory]; Susan Rodgers (wife of John Alfonse Walter), Baltimore [date of acquisition unknown], by inheritance; Laura Walter, Baltimore [date of acquisition unkown], by inheritance; Ethel R. Gray, Baltimore, 1911, by inheritance; Walters Art Museum, 1948, by purchase.

Cacao is a bean crop grown on trees and the fundamental basis for chocolate production. Europeans arriving in the New World found indigenous people to be consuming chocolate most commonly in the form of a drink with froth, and when the newcomers began to explore its additional uses, they created foodstuffs and even medication. The natives created chocolate by roasting and skinning the cacao beans, then crushing and grinding them to produce a more malleable substance, often adding other natural substances such as vanilla or honey for an improved taste.

Cacao played a vital cultural role in the lifestyle of native Americans, such as the Mayans and Aztecs. Archaeological research revealed engravings in ceremonial clay bowls of deities associated with the crop, and chocolate’s linguistic origin actually traces back to a phrase about the food of the god’s.

The European settlers saw much more commercial than religious potential in cacao, and word and taste of chocolate quickly spread across the continents. Thousands of pounds of the it were shipped to Europe, where the English eventually combined it with milk, liquor, and other ingredients. The manufacturing process involved the cleaning, roasting, cracking, and fanning of cacao beans, followed by their grinding and mixture with the prepared accompanying ingredients; the work required was quite manual and similar to that done by the native Americans with whom they found it. In Europe, this work was assisted by early manufacturing machinery, such as heated cauldrons, surfaces, mortars, and surfaces.

In the late 17th century, France’s consumption of chocolate, particularly by royalty, was common knowledge. The Siamese queen sent gifts of two silver chocolatiérs and five chocolate-pots, one of which was entirely gold, to Louis XIV. These grandiose presents served as models for equipment that soon became used all over Europe and even in British American colonies. The image above shows a later design of the instrument gifted to Louis XIV, the silver chocolatiére.

The transport and spread of chocolate resulted in its eventual development into a social symbol. In European countries such as Spain and Italy, it was consumed largely by those of upper and religious class. It was used in artwork as an indicator of social elevation, particularly in situations where it was being served by a foreign servant, which historical perspective can attribute to the crop’s close connection with imperialism.

Chocolate’s presence further generated something of a social stereotype surrounding women. This was rooted in its consumption by nuns and the European priests’ condemnation of it because of the financial expense; however, chocolate later became a symbol of female malignance in general. Its association with witchcraft became a widespread idea; it was said to be used in love potions, with other key ingredients such as menstrual blood. This social link was solidified on a higher, more legal level by Inquisition allegations of the creation of such potions.


Bonnart, Robert. Un cavalier et une dame buvant du chocolat. 1718. Engraved maunuscript. BnF, Department of Manuscripts, CLAIRAMBAULT 503, National Library of France. Accessed October 9, 2018.

Coe, Sophie D. et al. The True History of Chocolate. United Kingdom: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Earle, Rebecca. The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race, and the Colonial Experiences in Spanish America, 1492-1700. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.


People with Crowns Ate Fruits with Crowns: The Royal Pineapple

Charles II Presented with a Pineapple
Unknown painter, Britain, c. 1675-80
Oil on canvas.
96.6 x 114.5 cm
Royal Collection Trust

PROVENANCE: Presented to Queen Mary by Lady Mountstephen in 1926; formerly in the Bredalbane collection.

This oil painting’s subject is Charles II, King of Great Britain (1630-85). A kneeling man, possibly the royal gardener John Rose, presents Charles II with a pineapple in front of a large garden and house. The king is depicted wearing the typical fashionable clothing of the 1670s, which is unusual because he is normally painted wearing ceremonial robes or armour. Although in casual dress Charles II is presented with a symbol of royalty, the pineapple.

Out of the many fruits encountered in the ‘New World’, the pineapple was of special interest to European travelers due to its unusual form, taste, and qualities. Upon his first encounter with the fruit Spanish explorer Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo declared it to be the unrivaled prince of all fruits. Even King Ferdinand gave the pineapple his highest praise. The pineapple became associated with royalty in Europe. The leaves on the top of the fruit are called the crown, so the pineapple certainly functions well as a symbol for kings. These royal connotations are incredibly illustrated by the Dunmore Pineapple, the ancestral home of the Earls of Dunmore built in 1761 with a fourteen meter tall pineapple crowning the building. The structure was designed to represent wealth and power and the royal symbolism of the pineapple was used to achieve this.

The pineapple presented to Charles II was claimed to have been the first pineapple grown in England. Although pineapples were later grown in Europe using hothouses, the date of the painting c. 1675-80 makes it is more likely that the pineapple pictured would have been imported. A certain parallel emerges between the pineapple and King Charles II beyond the royal status both enjoyed. In the painting a king who was both home grown and imported is presented with a royal symbol which is likewise home grown and imported.

Charles II’s father Charles I was beheaded in 1649 at the climax of the English civil war. The war, which lasted from 1642-1651, included wars in England, Scotland, and Ireland and become so intertwined largely due to Charles I himself. The Rump House of Commons created The High Court of Justice to try Charles I for treason against England for using his power to pursue personal interest rather than the country’s welfare. The court placed command responsibility on the shoulders of Charles I, holding him responsible for all the terrible things which had occurred during the wars. Despite Charles I’s refusal to recognize the court’s authority he was declared guilty and beheaded.

Although Charles II was declared king shortly after his father’s execution, he was unable to assume rule because England entered into the period known as the English Commonwealth. The country became a de facto republic headed by Oliver Cromwell. Charles II fled to mainland Europe after being defeated by Cromwell in battle. The dethroned king spent nine years in exile in France, the Dutch Republic, and the Spanish Netherlands. A political crisis following the death of Cromwell in 1658 resulted in the restoration of the monarchy. In 1660 Charles II was received in London as king.

Similar to the pineapple he was presented with in the painting, Charles II also had the dual identity of being homegrown and imported. He was homegrown because he was born and grew up in England while his father ruled and he was imported because he was returning to rule England after being in exile for nine years, a significant portion of his life. This is a moment where pineapples not only symbolize kingly qualities, but symbolize kings themselves.


Charles II Presented with a Pineapple. c. 1675-80. Royal Collection Trust, Britain. Accessed October 12, 2018,

Kishlansky, Mark A, and John Morrill. “Charles I.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, September 23, 2004. Accessed October 12, 2018,

Okihiro, Gary Y. Pineapple Culture: A History of the Tropical and Temperate Zones. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

Oviedo, Gonzalo Fernandez de. Historia General y Natural de Las Indias. 1535. Book 7, Chapter 14.

Seaward, Paul. “Charles II.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, September 23, 2004. Accessed October 12, 2018.

“The Pineapple.” National Trust for Scotland. Accessed October 12, 2018.

The Chocolate Cup

De español y negra, mulato, 6. (detail)

José de Páez, Mexico, ca. 1770-1780

Oil on canvas

Private collection

de Páez, José. No. 4. De español y negra, nace mulata (From Spaniard and Black, a Mulata is Born). 1774. Oil on canvas. Museo de América, Madrid. In Casta Painting: Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004, 24.

This detail is a part of a casta painting produced by José de Páez in Mexico. In the painting, a woman of African descent is being depicted as a preparer of hot chocolate for her Spanish husband. This hot chocolate would be served in a jicara or chocolate cup that was used specifically for drinking hot chocolate. This detail is an example of how chocolate and the chocolate cup would become associated with women who were the common preparers of the beverage.

Hot chocolate was a beverage that was the most universally embraced by European settlers of the New World. Colonial writers almost unanimously praised the beverage and declared that it was “the healthiest and most sustaining food in the world”.[1] Since the consumption of chocolate constituted European’s first exposure to the caffeine, it is likely that Europeans thought chocolate was stimulating and beneficial to one’s health. Hot chocolate, in fact, became immensely popular to the point that it was considered a geographically appropriate substitute for wine.

In the mid-sixteenth century, chocolate consumption was widespread because there was a shortage of Spanish women in the New World. This shortage motivated settlers to depend on indigenous women for meal preparation. However, when colonial settlement was established for a few decades, chocolate was seen as a drink that was favored by women in particular. With this association, Europeans’ attitudes towards indigenous women as welcomed preparers of chocolate transformed into a fear of the power they could exert with the product.

For Europeans, their reliance on indigenous women to prepare, serve, and drink chocolate transforms into a fear of their spirituality. Chocolate became associated with sexual witchcraft and had aphrodisiac qualities that women took advantage of to exert power over the men in their lives. Women were therefore placed on Inquisition trials by the Church for preparing and using of chocolate as a mechanism for controlling men’s sexuality. While clergy members like the English priest Thomas Gage privately prepared and consumed chocolate for themselves, the Church fearfully condemned women’s use of chocolate in a contradictory manner.


[1] Rebecca Earle, The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race and the Colonial Experience in Spanish America, 1492-1700 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 131.


Earle, Rebecca. The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race and the Colonial Experience in Spanish America, 1492-1700. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Few, Martha. “Chocolate, Sex, and Disorderly Women in Late-Seventeenth- and Early-Eighteenth-Century Guatemala.” Ethnohistory, vol. 52, no. 4, Fall 2005.

Gage, Thomas. The English American: A New Survey of the West Indies, 1648. New York: Routledge, 1928. Accessed October 8, 2018.

Norton, Marcy. Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010.