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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: November 2010

1 - Cupid, art and idolatry


In 1613, Captain John Saris, leading the first English trade expedition to Japan for the East India Company, described in his diary ‘an odd Mistake, in a matter of Devotion, made by some of the Japonese Gentlewomen whom I admitted into my Cabin’:

These were some whom the Portuguese Jesuits had been at work upon, and had receiv'd from them some little Matters of Christianity, about as much as the saying of a few Gibberish Prayers, or the cringing before an Image or Picture might come to.

The good Women being in the Cabin, chanc'd to cast their Eyes upon a picture of Venus and Cupid that hung there; at which sight they were immediately seiz'd with a Fit of Devotion, and clapp'd upon their Knees without any more adoe, tumbling out all the Religion they had learn'd of the Fathers; and very zealous they were in their Addresses to the two modest Deities there painted before them. The Business was, they mistook this Pair for the Blessed Virgin Mary and her Son, whom the Jesuits had given them so very slender an Account of, that they knew no difference between them, and Cupid and Venus. A very strange thing, that the Reverend Planters of Christianity in these Parts, which make two thirds of the Religion they teach, to consist in a Concern with Pictures, shou'd do that Work so sleevelessly: That they shou'd not make their Converts perfect in such an important Point, as knowing the Picture of the Blessed Virgin, especially from that of a lewd Strumpet, that's always drawn with an Air of Looseness and Immodesty, and plainly discovers her self at the first Glance: 'Tis to be fear'd, such Japonese Christians as these, are no profound Scholars in the Doctrines of Religion.

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Cupid in Early Modern Literature and Culture
  • Online ISBN: 9780511779695
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