This scroll, block printed and hand-coloured with additional gold highlights, dates to the nineteenth century and is either from China, Vietnam, or possibly was produced in France for the colonial market. A Chinese or Vietnamese provenance is suggested by the Chinese script at the top (which translates approximately to ‘Build your foundation now to prepare for the Resurrection. Your future is guaranteed to be free from suffering’) but also the depiction of traditional Chinese musical instruments as part of the celestial orchestra. The scroll depicts the entire French-influenced Catholic hierarchy with Jesus and God at the top, Mary beneath, then the Apostles and other saints, and then the contemporary Church officialdom.
Another possibility is that the scroll shows the influence of French Jesuits in China: one prominent French Jesuit in China was Joseph-Marie Amiot who wrote a Manchu dictionaryDictionnaire Tatare-Mantchou-Français (Paris, 1789), as well as a 15-volume treaty on the history, sciences and art of the Chinese, published in Paris in 1776–1791.
A Vietnamese provenance is suggested by the fact that most of the faces of those depicted are European rather than Chinese, and there is the presence of Louis IX, a former King of France, who is also a saint in the broader pantheon of Catholic saints. Louis IX or Saint Louis (b. 1214-1270) built Sainte-Chapelle to house the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross, precious relics of the Passion of Jesus. Louis purchased these from Emperor Baldwin II of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, for an extraordinary sum – more than twice the cost of building Sainte-Chapelle. He also led several Crusades.
The conception of the poster is very French. It is nonetheless mounted on a loosely-woven textile in a Chinese roll-up scroll format.
Whether the scroll was produced in Vietnam or China, it is clearly in the style of the Épinal School. Épinal is a town in the north-east of France which specialised in the nineteenth century in the production of block-printed posters for the theatre and educational markets. These images known as ‘Images d’Épinal’ were produced by a local company, the Imagerie d’Épinal, formerly known as the Imagerie Pellerin.
The scroll here includes the Apostles, other saints, a Pope, but also members of various Catholic Orders, including Franciscan and Jesuit monks. Rows of angels swingthuribles (incense holders suspended from chains) creating clouds of incense vapour. And then there is a celestial orchestra. Among the musicians depicted is a female playing asheng, a Chinese traditional musical wind instrument that comprise a series of reeds of different lengths bundled and all connected to a single mouthpiece.
The scroll is largely in very good condition other than for the top. The colours are bright and there are no significant tears or losses other than the top section where a line of script has frayed and been lost. The top section has been professionally stabilised and lined however.