Art of the Moluccas: Clove Boats

In the autumn of 2014, restorers of the British Museum were entrusted with the unique task of restoring and conserving a rare example of a carnation boat. It is believed that the ship was made in Indonesia around the 18th century and entered the museum’s collection in 1972. But there is no indication of how and thanks to whom the ship “arrived” – either it was donated to the museum by someone, or it was purchased.

Clove Boats

The boat was made of dried cloves strung on threads or fastened together with thin wooden pins. The hull of the ship is made of several layers of clove “necklace”.

The biggest difficulties for the specialists arose due to the separated parts and figurines of people that were found in the box with the boat. It was the question of the correct location of oars, pennants, drums and oars that caused a discussion among professionals. We had to enlist the help of other museums and examine the ship and its details under a microscope to determine the edges of the gaps and adhere to the historical truth.

Art of the Moluccas: Clove Boats

Ahead of the exhibit’s first showing, the British Museum appealed to the general public to get involved in the process of reconstructing the boat, as the conservation team was unable to reach a consensus and certain pieces of the ship and figurines were returned to the box.

Interestingly, even after two centuries, the miraculous boat is still enveloped in the bright aroma of cloves.

Only a few museums can boast of similar models, including the Ethnological Museum in Leiden, the Netherlands, and the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. Most of the “spice” boats appeared in public during the Second World War – the German invaders dragged the most valuable and rare things from all over the world. To this day, clove ships can be purchased at private auctions, and the starting price for Moluccan art pieces reaches from 3,000 euros.

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