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0211 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.2
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.2 / Page 211 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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317. PORCELAIN   807

Senegal (1757); he might have added the Encyclopédie. But RUMPHIUS, ALDROVANDI and ADANSON lived four and five centuries after porcellana and porcelletta are attested in texts, and their speculations have not even the value which may attach to the studies of modern etymologists.

In my opinion, the question is not yet settled, but I am tempted to think that YULE'S common sense carried the day once more.

Cowries are mentioned in the Middle Ages perhaps before Polo. In the maritime code of Barcelona called Consolat del mar (ch. 44), dated c. 1250, mention is made of products imported from Egypt, including cotton in bales, spun wood, porcelanas, elephant's teeth, etc. PESCHEL (Deutsche Vierteljahrschrift, 1855, 176) saw there the first mention of a trade import of china-ware to Europe, and YULE (Hobson-Jobson2, 725) adopted the same interpretation. HEYD (II, 680) was, I think, right to feel diffident about it. He remarked that Pegolotti, writing in 1343, named the porcelldne, between coloquint and myrrh, among the goods which sold at Venice by the hundredweight, and concluded : « Can it be believed that vases of Chinese porcelain were ever sold by the hundredweight? Don't we have to deal, in both cases, with the shells bearing the same name, which were sent to the West to be manufactured by some special industry? » For Pegolotti's passage, YULE too had thought that probably shells, and not China dishes, were intended It is more to be regretted that, in his recent edition of Pegolotti, EVANS (p. 427) should have interpreted porcellcine as « pursiain ». Purslain is a common plant, indigenous in Europe, and which can never have been an item of maritime trade from the East. I have no doubt that HEYD's surmise was correct for the porcelanas of the Consolat del mar as well as for Pegolotti's porcellclne. That a trade existed in cowries from the East to Europe is confirmed by a Florentine tariff of 1442 which mentions porcielette marine (cf. YULE, Hobson-Jobson2, 726). But there is still a more important text, which has escaped both HEYD and YULE. It is that of Aluise da Ca' da Mosto which I have quoted under « Cowry »; from it we know with certainty that, in the middle of the 15th cent., Venice imported from the Orient small white cowries (porcellette bianche) identical with the ones which some African tribes used as currency. To what use they were put and whether, as HEYD surmises, they were treated by a special industry is another problem which I shall leave out for the present.

We may now pass to the second meaning of « porcelain », that of « china-ware ». Some hesitation has been felt whether this new meaning was evolved on account of the resemblance of the glazed surface of Chinese porcelain with the polished and brilliant shell of the Cypraea, or because shells were supposed to enter into its composition (cf. HEYD, II, 678). Oriental languages give no clue, since their designations for « china-ware » merely mean « Chinese » (see «Cin» and « Facfur »). As we have seen, the porcelanas of the Consolat del mar were most probably cowries, so that the earliest example hitherto discovered of « porcelain » with the meaning « china-ware » is in Polo's text, and Polo's description shows that he was well aware of the fabrication of china-ware not from shells, but from a «kind of earth » (cf. Vol. I, 352). It would be futile, however, to suppose that Polo was the initiator in this use of the term, which probably originated in the West with people who knew nothing of the fabrication of « porcelain ». That cowries have been often believed to be used for making china-ware is proved by many texts. The Latin translator of Z may have laboured under that misconception when he spoke of parasides de porcelanis (not porcelana), and perhaps RAMUSIO