Exotic Artifacts in the Ximenez Household

Emmanuel Ximenez and Isabel da Vega owned exotic objects of two types: those found in nature and those that were man-made. Both groups were fairly small. The former included three "Indian nutshells," referring to coconut shells (the term 'Indian' could at that time refer to the Americas or to Asia). Interestingly, these were kept in the porcelain room or "cabinet," where they were displayed alongside fine ceramics from China. Perhaps most striking among the exotic naturalia were three preserved animals: a salamander, a crocodile, and an armadillo, again all categorized as 'Indian' in the inventory. Additionally, inside the home were a large number of pearls, some sewn onto clothing, others set in jewelry, and still others kept loose. In the seventeenth century pearls were fished off the shores of the Americas and in Asian waters, and the Portuguese were particularly involved with the industry off the South Coast of India and Sri Lanka. But it is not clear that pearls would have been perceived as exotic by a wealthy family; they may have been so commonplace as to have been seen simply as expensive adornments.

The presence of exotic, man-made items imported from outside Europe in the Ximenez household is likewise rather underwhelming. This is even more striking given the international business connections and financial means the Ximenez had: had they wanted to they could easily have purchased any exotica that was on the market then. They chose not to do that, perhaps as a matter of personal taste and interest. The exotic objects that are listed in the inventory are not exceptional, and served – as is indicated in some instances – furnishing purposes within the household. The largest portion of these items constituted textiles, whose descriptions are so inexact that one can only hypothesize what they may have looked like. Most of these textiles were from Turkey, geographically the closest export region for exotic textiles, especially carpets. And yet, given the ubiquity of Ottoman carpets in rich European households of that time one wonders as to how 'exotic' these carpets were actually perceived to be.

The inventory lists four to five Turkish carpets with measurements but without further details concerning appearance. There are, however, hints to as to their use. They were stored together in a chest with 21 bands. Likely these were woolen carpets from Anatolia most commonly traded as coeval paintings suggest. Of the other Turkish textiles, two were used as tablecloths, one as a curtain and the use of another is not specified. The last Turkish item is a saber stored in a box together with clothes. There are fewer 'Indian' objects: a leather bag and textiles used as tablecloths. Again their description is very inexact. Perhaps most interesting seems the "Indian bedstead" in the storage room above the dining room, but again the description does not permit a clear identification.

Here again, most of the 'exotic' man-made objects in the inventory that had been imported from outside of Europe had become by the early seventeenth century in Antwerp normal household furnishings and were likely no longer perceived as exotic, but rather as luxury commodities representative of any rich household. There was obviously no systematic collection of exotica, and the other European items seem to have been used as day to day household items, and only to a very limited extent as showpieces.

Barbara Karl, Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Vienna, and Sarah Moran, University of Bern & University of Antwerp


Belger Krody, Sumru Flowers of Silk & Gold: Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroidery. London: Merrell, 2000.

Seipel, Wilfried, ed. Exotica: Portugals Entdeckungen im Spiegel fürstlicher Kunst- und Wunderkammern der Renaissance. Mailand: Skira, 2000.

Völker, Angela. Die orientalischen Knüpfteppiche im MAK. Mailand: Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2001.