The spirit of adventure was a vibrant theme throughout Professor Marie Conte-Helm’s recent lecture at Te Papa.

Professor Conte-Helm began her visually stunning narrative of exploration of the Orient with the influences of the Silk Route, the ancient network of overland and maritime trade that was for centuries central to cultural, religious and commercial interaction throughout the Asian continent and beyond. It gave birth to the age of travel, opened markets to trade in new commodities and promoted the spread of religion in both directions.

Her well-illustrated lecture explored how the West (Jesuit missionaries, ambassadors, and trade emissaries) were portrayed by the East and the first depictions of life in the East as seen through western eyes.

Through maps and block prints of the remarkable voyages of European explorers Marco Polo and Vasco de Gama we witnessed the influences science and technology were to have on both sides of the globe. Their written accounts would influence the  Age of Discovery and with it the mighty crusades of the missionaries.

Treasured items garnered from the East flood the markets and courts of Europe. Silks, spices, precious metals and jewels, ceramics and exotic animals stimulate the imaginations of writers, explorers and artists.

Our speaker finished her whirlwind tour of the East recounting the 18th century tales of adventure in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days.

The Art of Travel had become armchair travel. The window on the exotic East was now opened for all to wonder.

Feature image: Detail from: One Hundred Horses, 1728 by Giuseppe Castiglione  (Lang Shining). National Palace Museum, Taipei