Branches and Bones: The Transformative Matter of Coral in Ming Dynasty China

Anna Grasskamp

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Through international trade, coral fragments from the Mediterranean Sea arrived in Ming dynasty China. There, they were represented in paintings as a significant constituent of pan-Asian Buddhist iconographies. Against the backdrop of coral’s meanings in early modern Europe and its trade links to Asia, this chapter investigates red coral in Ming dynasty China with a focus on Buddhist imagery, particularly through Korean paintings and Indian mythology. Entangled in a web of transcultural meanings, coral was perceived as having a unique ability to transform. It was viewed as an object “in between”: between global and local spaces, between resembling tree branches and the blood-covered bones of self-sacrifice, between foreign commodity and sacred offering.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGems in the Early Modern World
Subtitle of host publicationMaterials, Knowledge and Global Trade, 1450–1800
EditorsMichael Bycroft, Sven Dupré
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic)9783319963792
ISBN (Print)9783319963785
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2018

Publication series

NameEurope's Asian Centuries

User-Defined Keywords

  • Coral
  • Ming dynasty
  • Buddhism
  • Korea
  • India
  • Mythology
  • Paintings


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