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Jesuit Baluster Vase for the Portuguese Colonial Market
Jiangqing Reign, circa 1800
This Chinese export baluster vase, in white porcelain, is decorated in blue enamel on both sides with the Jesuit monogram which incorporates the 'IHS'
Christogram with a Crucifix rising above, with three nails surrounded by a stylised crown of thorns. The form of the emblem differs between the two sides: in
one, the emblem is in solid line. In the other, it is in outline form. The vase will have been commissioned from China by the Jesuits for use in one of their
churches or monasteries.
The Christogram ‘IHS’ denotes the three letters of the Greek name of Jesus, iota-eta-sigma. The Greek letter iota is represented by I, and eta by H, while
sigma is either in its lunate form, represented by C by S. Because the Latin-alphabet letters I and J were not distinguished until the seventeenth century, ‘JHS’
is equivalent to ‘IHS’, ‘JHS’ being the rendering that has been used on this baluster vase. The vase dates to the late nineteenth century but the 'JHS'
formulation continued to be used.
The vase is in excellent condition. There are no chips, cracks or repairs.
Vases of similar form and with similar Jesuit monograms and which date to the period 1796-1820 can be found in the Museu de Macau, Lisbon. Examples from
that collection are illustrated in de Castro (2007).
A vase of similar proportions and with a similar Jesuit IHS symbol appeared in Christie’s London, ‘The China Trade Sale’, April 5, 2000 (lot 80).
The Jesuits played a crucially important role in European advances into Asia. The discovery by the Portuguese of a sea route to Asia and the east allowed the
Company (or Society) of Jesus, founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1534 for the proselytising of Christianity and the conversion of non-Christians, to greatly extend
their reach. Spanish-born Francis Xavier was perhaps the most famous Jesuit Fathers. He travelled to Africa, India, Malacca, Eastern Indonesia, Japan and
China to spread Christianity and to galvanise the small communities of Christians already in place in those locations.
Fifty years later another Jesuit missionary, the Italian Matteo Ricci, made astonishing inroads into China by being invited to the Court of the Emperor Wan Li
who was interested in Ricci’s knowledge of mathematics and astronomy.
The Jesuits who established missionary activities, churches and schools in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies around the world, from South America to Goa
in India to Macau in China and the Philippines, ordered from China a variety of porcelain items featuring Jesuit themes and symbols for use in their churches
No Chinese porcelain decorated with religious subjects is known before the seventeenth century. Items from the seventeenth century are rare but typically
appear to have been commissioned by the Jesuits. Religious porcelain became more common in the eighteenth century.
Beurdeley, M., Porcelain of the East India Companies, Barrie and Rockliff, 1962.
de Castro, N., Chinese Porcelain at the Time of the Empire: Portugal/Brasil, ACD Editores, 2007.
Inventory no.: 1576 SOLD
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