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        The Jesuits and the Portrait of God in Late Ming China
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        The Jesuits and the Portrait of God in Late Ming China
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In 1637 the Jesuit missionary Giulio Aleni published in Fuzhou, Fujian province of China Tianzhu jiangsheng chuxiang jingjie (Explanations on the incarnation of the heavenly lord, hereafer Jingjie), which selectively reproduced and translated Geronimo Nadal's Evangelicae historiae imagines (Illustrations of gospel stories) (Antwerp, 1593; hereafter EHI). Those scenes of Jingjie selected from EHI conform quite strictly to the original compositions and captions, with some supplementary and exegetical alterations only.1 However, four images that did not appear at all in EHI were added to Jingjie.2 This essay focuses on one of those additions, the Salvator mundi, which is a rare surviving example of an icon of Christ produced in the seventeenth-century China mission (fig. 1).3 I discuss its significance in the contexts of the Jesuit catechistic activity of instruction on the incarnation and the Chinese indigenous tradition of iconic images, especially ancestral portraits used in ancestral rites.

Figure 1. Salvator mundi, from Tianzhu iiangsheng chuxiang jingjie, 1637. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München, cod. sin. 23.

The Jesuits' mission strategy of cultural adaptation in China took full advantage of comparable or analogous elements in Confucian ideas and aimed to present Catholicism as a complement that would eventually bring Confucianism to perfection. A similar process appears to have been at work, with or without the awareness of the Jesuits, in their selection and deployment of visual images in the mission activity. The Chinese were familiar with a variety of iconic images in indigenous religious or quasi-religious traditions such as Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, not to mention less prominent folk beliefs. Among them the Jesuits chose to ally with Confucianism and oppose Buddhism, the former being the dominant ideology of the empire and the latter the religion most widely spread among the populace. They also opposed Daoism but their confrontation with Daoism was relatively limited, probably because it posed fewer threats than Buddhism did. Therefore, the Jesuits' use of religious images was perceived by the Chinese in comparison with their own similar traditions, even if the Jesuits did not attempt to present Christian icons in such a comparative perspective.

The iconography of the Salvator mundi, as an icon representing the main figure of Christianity, easily brings to mind similar icons of Buddhist and Daoist deities. Furthermore, the devotional practices involving iconic images in Buddhism and Daoism resemble those of Catholicism very closely.4 Both in prominent strains of Christianity and in Asian religions, iconic representations of deities provide the foci of devotion. Believers pray and make offerings to those images. Also in Buddhism and Daoism, devotions and respect shown to images are believed to be forwarded to the beings represented and are not, strictly speaking, directed at the representations themselves. Icons are understood as conduits to contact the divine, not the divine beings per se. Despite such similar practices and ideas, the Jesuits disregarded Buddhist and Daoist icons, deeming them misleading idols that represented false deities. The very similarities between Buddhist rituals and icons and those of Catholicism in fact motivated the Jesuits to distinguish themselves clearly from their Asian competitors.

In contrast, as the Jesuits attempted to connect to Confucianism, they did not openly reject its religious or quasi-religious elements, which included the use of iconic images of ancestors. Certainly there are fewer comparable similarities in the Confucian tradition of ancestral portraits. They represent ancestors, not divinities as the icons in Christianity, Buddhism, and Daoism do. Furthermore, in the ancestral rituals, these portraits are believed to serve as the seats for visiting ancestral souls, which is clearly different from icons' mere indexical or referential function in other religions. However, I think it is nonetheless productive to look into the Confucian tradition of iconic images and compare it with its Christian counterpart, since the Jesuits tried to embrace the Confucian tradition as far as they could integrate it compatibly into their religious system. Furthermore and more significantly, the way the Jesuits presented their God and his images appears to have led the Chinese to perceive the Western icons in comparison to their Confucian tradition.

Images played a considerable role in the Jesuit mission in East Asia, and Christ's icon served as a catechistic key to expounding the mystery of the incarnation. The Jesuits brought with them paper images of icons on missionary excursions, and they usually presented their religion and its icons to the local Chinese in the settings of schools or clan halls, where Confucian custom prevailed and its rituals were sometimes conducted.5 In addition, the Jesuits presented themselves as Western literati, eliciting a direct comparison with Confucian intellectuals, and spoke the official Mandarin, the language of the learned and government officials. Due to such theatrical elements on the part of the Jesuits in behavior, speech, costume, and the locations where they expounded their religion, I think that the Catholic rituals and images reminded the Chinese of their Confucian counterparts rather than those of Buddhists or Daoists. In this regard, I argue that the Chinese tradition of ancestral portraits and rituals provided a cultural base on which they could recognize and understand Christian rituals and icons by comparison and, at an advanced level, by contrast. Eventually many were to be persuaded to accept the Western icon as the portrait of the true God.

In this article, I will first review the position and role of Christ's icon in the Jesuit mission in China. Then, I will discuss the Chinese ancestral portraits and ancestral rites, in which the use of iconic portraits elicited quite serious religious questions. These ancestral portraits with a quasi-religious dimension were the Confucian visual culture that was comparable to the icons of Christianity. Finally I will illuminate the significance of the Salvator mundi's being added to Jingjie and its potential use for catechistic teaching in relation to the Jesuits' stance on Confucian ancestral rites and the use of images therein.

The Jesuit Mission and the Icon of the Savior (Salvator mundi)

As an order that fully exploited the persuasive power of visual objects and visual experience in the promotion of spirituality in Catholic Reformation Europe, the Jesuits introduced and actively deployed Christian images in the China mission from the time of Matteo Ricci. As a result, an ample body of Jesuit letters and writings attests to the existence of Christian images throughout the Jesuits' presence in China. Among those images, I will discuss only the cases of iconic images of God or his incarnate hypostasis, Christ.

At least from the writings of missionaries, it appears that the Chinese people's yearning to see an image of the Western God was quite intense. This is not surprising if we consider that the Chinese had been fully exposed to the anthropomorphic images of Buddhist and Daoist deities for a thousand years before their encounter with Catholicism. Even Confucianism, which centers on the figure of the non-divine, human sage Confucius, had to develop a certain kind of quasi-divine, auspicious image of the sage in order to meet the people's expectation to behold supernatural visual manifestations of the great teacher.6

Already from the time of Ricci, the display of the iconic image of God was a persuasive means of catechesis. Ricci records an anecdote of Father Longobardo, which took place in the second half of 1599:

And after arriving, the Father [Longobardo] sat in a chair with a table in front of it and began to declare the intention of his coming to such distant kingdoms, which was to clarify to them the true religion of God, the Lord of heaven, through whom only humankind could be redeemed. And he recited to them the Ten Commandments. After these admonitions, he said that he wanted to show them the image of God the Savior, who had taught these laws. And, setting up the aforementioned image, which he carried with himself, in a decent place with candles and incense, he urged everyone to kneel down in front of the image and adore it and promise that they would abandon the idols and that, from then on, they would recognize their Creator. It was easy among these simple folk, because the Father had already taught [the religion] clearly to them, and the Chinese had [heard of] the good reputation of our Holy Faith. After this, “Doctrina christiana” was given to the elders [of the village], and they were exhorted to learn it by the time the Father returned.7

D'Elia understands “the image of God the Savior” in this passage to be the icon of the Salvator mundi, in which typically the half-length bust figure of Christ faces the viewer, holding a celestial globe with his left hand and making a gesture of blessing with his right.8

He further suggests that this image was either directly sent from Rome by General Acquaviva or, more significantly, produced in Japan by a Japanese painter trained at a Jesuit seminary in Kyushu. One such example of high quality is now owned by the Tokyo University Library (fig. 2).9 The reproductions of this prototype circulated in southern Chinese cities such as Nanchang and Nanjing. Furthermore, the engraving leaflets of the Salvator mundi images produced by Flemish printmakers of the sixteenth century could be easily transported to the Jesuits in China, together with other heavy volumes.10 The references to these images in the Jesuit letters do not elaborately describe their iconography but simply refer to them as the image of the Savior. However, all such referenced images seem to belong to this category of Salvator mundi icons, the visual evidence of which I will discuss in the last section of this essay.

Figure 2. Salvator mundi, unknown Japanese painter, oil on copper panel, 1597. Courtesy of the University of Tokyo Library.

In this quotation, two things are noteworthy. First, Father Longobardo does not simply display the image but installs it in the setting of an altar with candles and incense, which was of course quite common in the custom of European Christianity. A precious scene of such a domestic Christian altar venerated by Portuguese Jesuits in the Japan mission has survived in a Namban screen (fig. 3). One can even identify the figure of the venerated icon, which is apparently a Salvator mundi. However, since such a domestic altar in Chinese households was usually reserved for ancestral portraits and ancestral worship, the icon of Christ was presented to the Chinese in the way they were perceiving and venerating their ancestral portraits. That is why these people do not object to kneeling down and venerating the unfamiliar image, since they were used to a similar practice in a similar setting. Secondly, the display of the icon appears to have facilitated further steps of catechesis. Thereafter, Father Longobardo not only urges the people to recognize the image as the portrait of the true God but even distributes pamphlets of “Doctrina christiana” as a kind of homework assignment to read by the time he revisits.11

Figure 3. Detail of a Namban screen, late sixteenth century. Courtesy of the Museum of the Imperial Collections, Tokyo. Reproduced from Kinsei Nagasaki no akebono (The dawn of modern Nagasaki) (Nagasaki: Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum, 1987).

The demands for an icon of the Savior and its considerable impact on the populace continued into the next century. In a list of instructions, dated 1624, for Jesuit priests going on local mission excursions, Father Manuel Dias the Elder includes religious images as well as catechistic pamphlets to be brought by the missionaries.12 Most significantly, these images are called “paper images” (imagens de papel), suggesting print versions such as the Salvator mundi in Jingjie rather than costly paintings. Certainly these missionaries on the road must have carried a single leaflet reproduction of the icon rather than a whole volume such as Jingjie. A similar act of presenting Christ's icon as a dramatic culmination in the introduction of Western religion is recorded by Manuel Dias the Younger in his letter of 1627. He recounts the case of Father Rodrigo de Figueiro, who went on a local mission expedition near Ningbo:

Just a few steps away, we entered a village and soon [thereafter visited] some houses . . . [one of which contained] the most beautiful hall, which was full of boys studying with their teacher, and my first reception took place here. Old Francisco, as he was called, left me there with the teacher and boys, and I discussed with them their things. Learned men began to come [to visit], and we talked about the law; they asked if we have a certain image of the God whom I was preaching to them. I pulled out an image of appropriate grandeur, which I soon set up in the hall. I acquired a band and [with the help of] an old tailor whom I brought from outside, we hung the image on a wall in the hall. Then, all the boys with their teacher began to bow [to the image], and they prayed, with the teacher coming forward like a master of ceremonies, saying, “We adore you, Lord, we implore you to help us, to open our understanding in order to learn.” . . . This was the first encounter . . . and soon [thereafter], on another day, I gave an order to set up an altar in the same hall, in order to place, as I did, the same Image of the Savior, which was done shortly [thereafter]. And in the night we arranged the canopy, altar, and the table of incense, and the preaching began.13

Father Figueiro meets with young students and their master in a classroom-like hall, where he further has a meeting with lettered people coming to visit him. The priest is asked to show them the image of God as he is expounding the new doctrine. He pulls out the image and hangs it on a wall with a cloth band, which is the usual way of hanging image scrolls, including religious icons and ancestral portraits, in a Chinese interior. Its dramatic effect is quite remarkable. The boys and their teacher begin to bow down, even before they are fully taught in catechism and baptized.

In this letter as well as in Ricci's acount, these Chinese are quite easily persuaded to bow and venerate the icon of Christ, even though the missionaries' words should be taken with some reservation. Buddhist monks and believers also bowed in front of icons as a practice of devotion, but usually in the space of a temple hall. In contrast, this was the setting of a secular building that served as a kind of school where Confucian classics were taught and probably literati had gatherings occasionally. In other words, it was a space more closely related to the Confucian tradition, in which bowing to a picture was conducted on one of two occasions: to the sage Confucius or to one's ancestors. However, the rites to the great sage were conducted only by selected officials at Confucian temples authorized by the state.14 In the ordinary households of commoners, bowing to a picture usually meant bowing to ancestral portraits, except for the cases of other religious icons favored by the family.

To the boys and their teacher in the hall, the image of Christ in iconic posture hung on the wall immediately calls to mind the ancestral portraits installed in like fashion in their households or, for some upper-class members, the family shrine, and they are expressing their respect to the unknown holy figure in the way they are most accustomed. The leading role of the teacher, in the manner of “a master of ceremonies,” especially resembles that of a liturgist in the ancestral rites, who orally announces each stage of the rites to guide the participants through the traditional formulae. Furthermore, the next day Father Figueiro asks an altar to be provided for the picture and eventually sets up a household altar with incense and a canopy, all in close resemblance to the ancestral altar and portraits in Chinese custom. References to the setting up of an altar for Christ's icon repeatedly appear in the Jesuit letters.15

The revealing of God's image not only leads the audience, though not yet converted, to bow and even to pray for their well-being but also facilitates the catechesis process that follows. How the use of the image is incorporated into the catechesis is narrated in detail in the same letter. Father Figueiro moves to another house where he baptizes many men and women, and here he preaches about the new laws to the gathering crowd in the following fashion:

With this fame, people soon gathered, [those] who had heard of the fame of the law of God and had a wish to hear the law but [had previously been] absent. And in the night in the hall where the altar was set up, everybody gathered and seated me in the principal chair, I say, in the first place. First, I bowed five or six times to the image [of the Savior], and then all of them did the same. This was followed by a practice [preaching] consisting of five points. The first point was the Image of the Lord of Heaven, creator of all, not the Buddhist idols, nor [other] idols, but the truly living God, [and I spoke] about how he created Heaven, the Angels, and all things, wherefore other gods should not be adored, since they all are [mere] creatures, and that one should not fear the demons but serve this one and true Lord. The second point was the fall of the Angels, the creation of humanity, and the causes of the incarnation. The third point was a brief explanation of the credo and the principal mysteries. The fourth point was an explication of the commandments. The fifth point was on the things necessary for baptism, which is the resolution to follow this law, and repentance for sins.16

This part of the letter elaborately details the sequential program of catechesis, which consists of five stages of theological themes, starting with the revelation of God the Creator and ending with the meaning of baptism and repentance.

Most noteworthy is that the first step in the explication of God himself begins with the image of the Savior. The theme of the first point is literally here designated “the Image of the Lord of Heaven,” rather than merely “the Lord of Heaven.” Setting up an altar, placing the icon above it, and making solemn bows five or six times precedes the explication of God. In other words, the catechism of the Western religion begins with the ritualistic veneration of his image in close resemblance to the indigenous practice of ancestral veneration, whether or not the Jesuits were consciously taking advantage of such a resemblance. In this process, the icon of the Savior is not simply playing a supplementary pedagogical role but exerting a more immediate and stronger impact on the mind of the initiated, especially in conjunction with a domestic, rather humble altar, which probably was nothing more than a small table attached to a wall that served as a stand for ancestors' spirit tablets and portraits hanging above.

The Chinese's deep-rooted fascination with rituals and rites has been noted by modern sinologists as well as missionaries in the Ming period.17 Missionaries mistook the Chinese's respectful behavior in front of the Christian icon and altar as a hopeful sign of their acknowledgment of the true religion, but in fact their behavior was a part of their culture, in which politics and religion were both embedded in ritualistic performances.18 In other words, the foreignness of this Western religion was turned into something less outlandish through the use of rituals and images, and this encouraged their engagement with Catholicism.

A very intriguing episode that reveals the Chinese's perception of the Salvator mundi icon as analogous or even identical to the ancestral portraits in their Confucian tradition is recorded by Ricci in his letter to General Acquaviva in 1607. Ricci quotes Father Ferreira, who describes the opponents of the Jesuits, accusing them of a number of unfounded transgressions. One of those trangressions particularly concerns my thesis:

Not lacking in these lands and villages are the preachers of various [religious] sects, who had seen some of their followers convert [to Christianity] and feared that many others [would be] moved by the good examples of these converts and by the force of the truth of our preaching, [and that] its light would uncover their errors and lies. [They feared] that, therefore, many [of their followers] would abandon idolatry, and that they [the preachers of various sects] would lose the credit and support [that were] the fruit of the bad seeds that they had scattered. [So they] began to discredit us by saying that the image of the Savior was the figure of my ancestor or my own portrait and that I am seeking, under the pretext of teaching new laws, to be adored myself.19

These Chinese opponents misunderstand the image of the Salvator mundi as the ancestral portrait of the Jesuits because its ritualistic treatment by the Christians appears close to the indigenous custom of ancestral rites and portraits. They find it problematic that the Jesuits are turning their ancestor into a divine being that should be venerated not only by his descendants but by everyone. This episode of misunderstanding ironically affirms the cultural similarity between the Jesuits' use of the Salvator mundi icon and the Chinese custom of ancestral rites and ancestral portraits. In order to bring to light the significance of Christ's icon in the context of Chinese ritualistic traditions, I will turn to the topic of these traditions in the following section.

The Jesuits and Ancestral Worship

Even though Confucianism, unlike Buddhism or Daoism, is mainly concerned with the politics and ethics of secular life, it nonetheless has religious or quasi-religious dimensions. These dimensions should be explored fully, since due to their very indefinite character, the Jesuits chose Confucianism as a complement to their own tradition and a means of acculturation and attempted to build Chinese Catholicism on the basis of a Confucian political and ethical substructure. Among a variety of religious elements in Confucianism, I am particularly paying attention to ancestral worship and rites, because this was a practice that was widespread among the Chinese from the top imperial family to the commoners: the use of icon-like portraits was a generally accepted custom by the mid-Ming period, well before the Jesuits' entry into China.20

Both literati officials and commoners in China had in their households, according to their economic capability, a space or a separate hall reserved for a family altar, on which the spirit tablets of ancestors and, when affordable, ancestral portraits were placed (fig. 4). Here, sacrificial rites were offered to ancestors on the commemoration days of their death and seasonal feast days. Certainly, ancestral rites were not merely a filial commemoration. It was believed that ancestors' souls, even after their physical deaths, needed occasional nourishing from their descendants and that they came to visit the descendants' houses on those days of rites to consume the food offered on the altar. In return, well-nourished and respected souls of ancestors brought blessings and good luck to the descendants. If such rites were neglected, on the other hand, angry souls of ancestors could bring curses to the family. This widespread belief about ancestral worship had its roots in Confucian classics such as Liji (The record of rites) and Yili (Ceremonies and rites), even though the Jesuits and converted literati attempted assiduously to discredit such supernatural overtones in the rites as not authentically Confucian ideas but later accretions.21

Figure 4. An ancestral portrait of an official in late Ming style, eighteenth century. Courtesy of Princeton University Art Museum.

By the time of the Jesuits' entry into China, ancestral rites were observed on the basis of the Jiali (The manual of family rites), written by Song commentator Zhu Xi (1130–1200). The chapter on sacrificial rites to ancestors consists of passages that involve religious questions. Zhu Xi's manual enumerates the process of the ritual in the following sequence: greet the spirits (), invoke the spirits (), present the food (), make the offerings (in three stages) (), urge the spirits to eat (), close the door (), etc. After offering the food, the family is to leave the room of sacrifice and close the door so that the spirits can consume the food in comfort. Once enough time has elapsed, the family reenters the ritual room (), but only after the liturgist has coughed three times before opening the door, informing the spirits of the family's presence. No matter what other commentators or literati in the later period argued, the whole process of the ritual definitely regards the spirits as individualized and personalized entities who can be called on, can visit, and can enjoy food.22 The family even respects the souls' privacy by leaving the room temporarily and making a sound before reentering.

After reentering the ritual space, the presiding man of the family tastes the offered wine and food (). The taking of food from ancestral rites is supposed to forward the ancestors' blessing to the participating descendants. The liturgist reads the following at this stage:

The ancestors instruct me, the liturgist, to pass on abundant good luck to you filial descendants and calls you, filial descendants, to approach and receive riches from heaven, have good harvests from the fields, and live a long life forever, without interruption.23

Not only do the ancestors' souls come to visit their descendants' households, but they also have the power to bless or curse the latter, which certainly is a quasi-divine ability.

The Jesuits saw two serious problems. First, the spirits of the ancestors were believed to return to their descendants' homes and nourish themselves with the food offered several times a year. Certainly such a belief was not to be accepted by Christians. In this process, the spirit tablets and the portraits of ancestors were supposed to serve as the temporary bodies or seats for the spirits to reside in during the ceremonies. The second problem was the belief that such offerings to ancestors brought blessings and the prevention of evil for the descendants. In the Catholic faith, the souls of the dead cannot have God-like power to bless or condemn their descendants.

However, the ancestral rites were deeply rooted in Chinese culture and provided the foundation for both the ethics and political ideology of the empire, so the Jesuits could not simply disregard or oppose them. Matteo Ricci had already noted the importance of the rites in Chinese society and suggested a solution, which continued to be the Jesuits' stance on the issue:

They consider this ceremony as an honor bestowed upon their departed ancestors, just as they might honor them if they were living. They do not really believe that the dead actually need the victuals which are placed upon their graves, but they say that they observe the custom of placing them there because it seems to be the best way of testifying their love for their dear departed. Indeed, it is asserted by many that this particular rite was first instituted for the benefit of the living rather than for that of the dead. In this way it was hoped that children, and unlearned adults as well, might learn how to respect and to support their parents who were living, when they saw that parents departed were so highly honored by those who were educated and prominent. This practice of placing food upon the graves of the dead seems to be beyond any charge of sacrilege and perhaps also free from any taint of superstition, because they do not in any respect consider their ancestors to be gods, nor do they petition them for anything or hope for anything from them.24

Already in these earlier days, Matteo Ricci had interpreted the ancestral rites merely as a formal expression of filial affection, trying to ignore all those quasi-religious elements so apparent in the rites.

The Jesuit priests and Chinese literati converts repeated the same opinions on the issue throughout the seventeenth century. Food offerings and bows were mere expressions and formal gestures to show affection and respect to one's ancestors. Furthermore, they attempted to purge the rites of all supernatural elements by reinterpreting the ancient classics.25 Giulio Aleni adhered to the same view when he discussed the matter with his converts in Quanzhou, Fujian province in 1637—the same year he published Jingjie and the Salvator mundi icon contained therein as the prominent frontispiece:

I have observed how in accordance with Chinese ritual after a parent's decease a posthumous portrait and a wooden tablet are displayed, and that respectfully an offering is made of wine and food. I suppose that this is an expression of the son's sincere intention to treat the deceased one “as if he were present.”26

The source from which this excerpt is drawn—Kouduo richao (The diary of oral admonitions), a precious collection of Aleni's and his colleagues' daily missionary and pastoral activities and conversations—provides ample records similar to this one.

Earlier, in 1634 in Fuqing, Aleni had had a conversation with a local literatus, Fei Zhongzun, on the subject of ancestral rites. Fei had heard that Chinese converts destroyed and discarded their ancestral portraits and asked Aleni whether that was true. Aleni responded:

That is a false rumor. . . . Of the Ten Commandments anciently revealed by the Lord of Heaven the first three only concern the worship of the true Lord of heaven and earth, but of the other seven the very first one is “Be filial and respectful towards your parents.” In your country quite a number of families of the local gentry, both scholars and commoners, have been converted, but their attitude of filial piety and love—what is called “Serving the dead as if they were alive; respecting the deceased as if they were present”—has not changed at all.27

In the following remarks, Aleni adds that his converts had been removing the Buddhist or Daoist icons set up on the ancestral altar, not the ancestral portraits, which was misunderstood as the abolition of ancestral altars and portraits.

These two records are especially important, since Aleni is not simply discussing the ancestral rites in general terms but revealing, though indirectly, his approval of using ancestral portraits in the rites. Aleni makes a clear distinction between Buddhist and Daoist icons, which are idols to be removed, and ancestral portraits, which do not pose a problem, as long as the ancestral rites are conducted as an expression of filial affection. This toleration of ancestral portraits by the Jesuits is surprising, since even among the Confucian literati the use of anthropomorphic icons in rites had been a very sensitive and controversial issue since the Song dynasty.

Anthropomorphic images were used not only in ancestral rites but also in sacrificial rites dedicated to Confucius. As state ceremonies regularly conducted throughout the whole empire, the latter naturally provoked more critical reflections from neo-Confucian scholars. Such criticisms basically pointed out that the images of Confucius could not properly represent or even serve as the seat for Confucius's soul visiting the sites of rites to receive ceremonial sacrifices. Critics argued that the immaterial soul of Confucius could not be contained or confined by material images.28 This rationale does not differ much from European or Byzantine iconophobism, which contended that material images delimited, confined, and thus blasphemed the spiritual, divine being.29 In addition, those Chinese literati regarded the use of anthropomorphic images as a foreign practice associated with Buddhism and thus unorthodox in Confucian tradition.

Following the same line of logic, these criticisms extended to the case of ancestral images. A great scholar, Cheng Yi [(1033–1107) of the Northern Song, comments rather sarcastically on the ancestral portraits used in the rites: “If only one hair is not correctly rendered, the sacrifice will be for another man, which is most inconvenient.”30 If the portrait failed to resemble the dead person in every detail, it could not serve as the seat for the departed soul and represent the person during the ritual. Cheng Yi's comment is not merely discussing the level of artistic refinement in the portrait's verisimilitude but fundamentally questioning the validity of considering the painted image as the person per se. Thus such opponents recommended the use of non-figural name tablets only in the ancestral rites.

Even though criticisms arose in response to both practices—the rites to Confucius and the ancestral rites—it was only against the former that government actions were taken. At the iconoclastic proposition of the late Ming literatus Qiu Jun (1421–1495), the Emperor Jiajing ordered in 1530 that the icons of Confucius be removed from state temples throughout the empire, except for the one in the sage's native town of Qufu. This occurred only about thirty years before the Jesuits' entry into China. In contrast, ancestral portraits and their use in household ancestral rites took root as an accepted custom in the Ming dynasty. Zhu Xi's Jiali (The manual of family rites) was so popular and authoritative that a number of its expanded versions were written and widely circulated in later periods. One of them, Jiali huitong (An exegetic guide to family rites), written by Ming literatus Tang Duo in 1450, explicitly includes ancestral portraits as necessary items in the rites, even though Jiali itself does not mention the use of portraits.31 Cheng Yi's aforementioned criticism of ancestral portraits led to new developments in the artistic verisimilitude of the portraits rather than their abolition.

Thus, the Jesuits' toleration or implicit acceptance of ancestral portraits was an effort to conform to the approved custom of the empire at that time. However, the Jesuits made clear that the ancestral rites were to be understood as a civil, non-religious custom and that the portraits therein were mere commemorative paintings, not the temporary seats of ancestors' souls. The Jesuits' introduction of Christ's icon met with immediate understanding among the Chinese largely due to their familiarity with the ritualistic use of ancestral portraits. The Jesuits simply needed to alert the Chinese that bowing to the ancestral portraits was merely a formal and symbolic gesture, distinct from the religious veneration of Christ's icon.

However, the belief in the presence of ancestors' souls at the time and place the rites occurred was so deeply ingrained among the Chinese that a strange kind of hybrid understanding of the ritual was proposed by a literatus convert, Zhu Zongyuan:

When Confucius said “Sacrifice (to the spirits) like (them) being there [sic],” he did not dare to deny that they are there, nor did he squarely say that they are there. It simply means that in filial sons the feeling of longing for the departed is so intense that they seem to see them standing before their eyes. But it occasionally also happens that the Lord of Heaven makes a human soul return into the world in order to demonstrate the principle of the immortality of the soul.32

If read by a Jesuit father, this kind of viewpoint must have been criticized as unorthodox; nonetheless it was uttered by a literatus convert who could neither negate his new faith nor abandon his native tradition.

I think the Jesuits also were aware of the danger of such a misunderstanding or hybridization, since they fully understood the firm status of ancestral rites in Chinese society as a fundamental keystone for maintaining the ideology of the empire.33 For this very reason, they could not simply dismiss the practice as they did Buddhist and Daoist practices but attempted to embrace it at all costs, which eventually led to disastrous conflict with other orders and with Rome.34 Therefore, the Jesuits' anxiety or apprehension about ancestral worship was revealed only implicitly. An interesting use of the appellation “family demon” appears in Father António Gouvea's annual letter of 1636:

A woman had a family demon that had persecuted her since girlhood. Recognizing the Law of God, she received the Law through us. But when she was listening to the catechism, the demon appeared to her visibly with a drawn sword. And putting the sword into her hand, [the demon] ordered her to kill the Father who was giving the catechism, [saying that] if she did not, the demon would kill her with the same sword. She told the Father what Satan had said to her, and, receiving the holy baptism, she was freed from the captivity in which the demon had held her for so many years.35

On the surface, this appears to be one of many typical stories of exorcism frequently found in the Jesuits' letters and writings. However, a term such as “family demon” is rarely found. Since the letter does not elaborate on the character of this demon, the phrase may refer simply to the demonic spirit inhabiting or haunting the woman's house. However, the Portuguese word familiar seems to imply an association with the blood lineage of the woman's family.36

A more explicit allusion to the family soul or ancestral soul as a demonic power appears in the second volume of Lixiu yijian (The mirror of exhortation to cultivation), written around 1645 by Aleni's literatus convert and avid supporter Li Jiugong . This story belongs to a chapter entitled “Yiji” (The miracles):

In the region of Wenling, there lived a Christian literatus named Hong Qizhu. His younger cousin living in the country was possessed by a demon. One day when Hong went to the country to pay his respects to his family graves, he saw his cousin shouting in a frenzy and running wildly. The cousin said that the founding [or “ancestral”] master possessed him. The family was shocked and called in a shaman for an exorcism. As Hong merely crossed himself, the cousin asked to be saved. Hong produced catechistic books from inside his sleeve and gave them to him, and finally the cousin came to his senses and calmed down.37

In this story Hong and his family visit the graves of ancestors to conduct filial rites. However, oddly the possession of his younger cousin takes place at the grave sites, bringing to mind the famous biblical story of possession in the country of the Gerasenes (Luke 8:26–39).

Furthermore, the cousin shouts that the spirit of the founding master () has possessed him. The character “zu” () can also mean “ancestor,” in which case the spirit might be an ancestral ghost.38 If so, this story may indirectly reveal the Jesuits' apprehension about the ancestral rites in China, even though their official policy was to tolerate them on the condition that they be conducted as non-religious, civil practices. However, the Jesuits could never quite fully come to terms with the rites' religious elements, which had simply been too strong and deeply ingrained since ancient times in China. In fact, this issue of ancestral rites was to instigate a series of persecutions and mass martyrdoms of Catholics in Korea in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.39

The Salvator Mundi and Ancestral Portraits

The Christian image of the Savior and its devotional setting at the household altar were easily and immediately recognized and understood by the Chinese despite the distant origins of the Western religion, specifically because Confucianism also had developed a similar tradition, at least in appearance. Giulio Aleni's illustrated book Jingjie, published in 1637, presents as its frontispiece a woodcut version of the Salvator mundi (fig. 1), and I am arguing that its significance should be explored in relation to the Chinese tradition of ancestral portraits, which can explain the Chinese's instant recognition of and reaction to the Christian icon.

There are two reservations worth stating. First, ancestral portraits were not formally identical to Salvator mundi icons. The ancestral portraits in the Ming dynasty typically represented the whole seated figure of the deceased (fig. 4), while the Salvator mundi in Jingjie shows only a bust view. Ancestors do not hold objects the way Christ holds the celestial globe, nor do they show any recognizable hand gestures such as Christ's blessing hand. Ancestral portraits had been made in three-quarter view but changed to a strict frontality after the mid-Ming period; the Salvator mundi began as a strictly frontal icon, but since the sixteenth century a slightly turned three-quarter view also appeared to form a pair with a facing Virgin Mary icon. There was a further difference of hanging scroll format as opposed to imagens de papel. Therefore, the analogy I make in this article between ancestral portraits and the Salvator mundi primarily focuses on their ritualistic and functional dimensions rather than any visual resemblance.40 Secondly, only families above a certain economic level could commission and possess ancestral portraits. Not only for theological, iconophobic reasons but more often for practical, economic reasons, many common folk had to use name tablets only in the ancestral rites. However, the portraits were deemed an important item of ritualistic paraphernalia and sought after as the sign of the family's status and richness. Thus I am looking into ancestral portraits' position in the Chinese ritual culture rather than their actual deployment by the majority of the people.

By considering the significance of ancestral portraits in Chinese culture, we can better explain the inclusion of the Salvator mundi in Jingjie. The Salvator mundi appears at the very beginning of the book, and not only in its location but also in its iconography, it is not syntactically related to the book's main body of fifty-three narrative scenes quite strictly based on the original EHI. The Salvator mundi, unlike the rest of the narrative scenes, is an iconic image without narrative elements, and it further lacks the alphabetic markings and captions that lead to the Jesuit methodology of imaginative meditation.41 The fifty-three narrative scenes of Jingjie serve two interrelated purposes: pedagogical instructions on Christ's life and the potential promotion of meditative practice among Chinese converts. The iconography of the Salvator mundi as an emblematic manifestation of the incarnation could be related to either of these purposes, but only loosely.

Therefore, I think that Aleni and his associates saw the potential of this iconic image to be reproduced as a separate sheet and circulated even farther than Jingjie itself. As a prominent book with fifty-three detailed illustrations, Jingjie was distributed widely and continued to be reprinted in the following centuries.42 The book's success and eager reception could spread the icon wherever the book had already reached, and due to the icon's much simpler composition compared with the main narrative scenes, it could easily be copied and reproduced separately. As a woodcut, its reproducible medium may have also contributed to its wide circulation, since it could be reproduced on a mass scale in a way that, for example, a luxurious oil painting could not be. We have a nineteenth-century woodcut image of a Salvator mundi printed by the Jesuit press in Shanghai that was apparently derived from the prototype in Jingjie, which suggests that this prototype continued to be printed and circulated with only minor alterations as late as the nineteenth century.

The Salvator mundi in Jingjie is important in two respects. First, it is a rare example of a surviving iconic image of Christ produced in the Jesuit China mission. This is surprising when we consider the abundant references to “the image of the Savior” in the Jesuit sources, some of which I discuss in this essay. Secondly, this Salvator mundi was not simply added to the fifty-three scenes derived from EHI, but, accurately speaking, it replaced the original frontispiece image of EHI (fig. 5). Therefore, I will start by comparing the two images of Christ contained in Jingjie and EHI respectively, thereby bringing to light the salient characteristics of the former.

Figure 5. Frontispiece of EHI, 1596. Courtesy of Saint Joseph's University Press.

In a very thorough study of the Salvator mundi in Jingjie, Hui-hung Chen discusses its iconographic origins (eclectically derived from contemporaneous European prints), what the Chinese executer added and eliminated, and the historic references to the Salvator mundi images found in Chinese sources; in addition, she provides complete translations of all captions appearing with this image.43 Among these issues, I will focus on the elements that directly relate to my discussion in this essay. The scene presents the typical iconography in its center, but surrounds Christ with the figures of four apostles and further adds written explications. At the very top appears the title, “Tianzhujiangsheng shengxiang” (The holy image of the incarnate heavenly lord), which contains the same first four characters as the title of the book, (Explanations on the incarnation of the heavenly lord)—“heavenly lord” and “incarnation.” Right below the title the following phrase appears: “All the deities [angels] look upon his holy face; the four saints [four evangelists] record the holy traces” (). Below the central figure of the Savior are written rather catechistic phrases:

The Lord who set up heaven and earth, the Origin who initiated people and things,

Tracing back in time he was without beginning, drawing forward in time he is without end;

Prevalent over the universe without breach, transcending ordinary beings without being equal to any,

Originally having no form to present, thus [he] became incarnate to transmit a figure;

He revealed the divine transformation [i.e. incarnation] out of benevolence, urging and warning [humankind] with great justice.

His status is supremely reverent, nothing is above him, and his providence is mysterious beyond understanding.44

Apparently these phrases served as catechistic key points in the presentation of the Christian Savior in image.

The original frontispiece of EHI presents Christ in a standing pose without holding any objects but showing the wounds in his hands (fig. 5). There is nothing like a title above the figure, but below the image is written the well-known phrase of Matt 11:28: “Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis et onerati estis, et ego reficiam vos.” Further below appears information about the book including its title, its composition according to the cycle of church feast days and the life of Christ, the author's name, and the place and date of publication. In other words, there are no catechistic explications as in Jingjie's Salvator mundi, which probably were not necessary in Christian Europe. In short, the Salvator mundi, replacing the original frontispiece of EHI, served a different or more substantial role in the context of a mission in a foreign culture.

The images of the Savior or Salvator mundi were indeed perceived by the Chinese around Aleni in reference to their own tradition of ancestral portraits, as Kouduo Richao attests. Aleni's conversation with a certain man holding the office of guangwen, a position in charge of educational matters, concerns this issue:

Guangwen asked again: “The Lord of Heaven must be venerated—that I know very well. But I still feel some doubt. [According to the rites] the Son of Heaven [emperor] sacrifices to Heaven and Earth; the feudal lords sacrifice to the mountains and rivers [within their domains]; the great officers sacrifice to their five generations of ancestors, and knights and commoners sacrifice to their [immediate] forebears. Now your doctrine prescribes that all families take part in the worship of the Lord of Heaven. Is that not an act of usurpation? Moreover, if in the homes of scholars and commoners, and even in the smallest hovels and poorest cottages, everybody worships the image of the Lord of Heaven, is that not an act of profanation?”45

The guangwen questions the propriety of commoners' participating in the worship of the Western God, since in China only the emperor could offer sacrifices to heaven, and the people lower than he could only do so to their ancestors. Therefore, at first glance, this question does not seem to relate to the veneration of Christ's icon. However, the guangwen is questioning the veneration of the heavenly Lord's image in ordinary households and comparing its rationale with that of ancestral worship, which is in fact nothing other than the veneration of ancestral portraits in households.

Another episode of 1630 from the same source confirms the Chinese's perception of the applicability of such an analogy. This dialogue took place in Li Jiubiao's house in front of his house altar, and Zürcher believes that the image in question was a Salvator mundi icon:

The regional commander Liu paid a visit to [my home], where at that moment we were worshipping the Holy Image [of Jesus]. He then asked: “Is it life-like?” The master [Aleni] said; “It is—but there is one that is even more authentic. Anciently, when Jesus was dwelling in this world, there was a king who admired his saintly virtue. Since he wanted to see him but was unable to do so, he secretly sent a painter to have his portrait made. However, as soon as the painter saw Jesus, he was blinded by his supernatural light and could not fix his eyes upon him. Jesus knew this, so he took a handkerchief and covered his face with it, and at once his holy countenance was reproduced on it. That veil has been preserved till the present day. Before I sailed [to China] I have seen it myself. Every hair of the beard and eyebrows is there, and the resemblance is such that it seems to be alive.46

Responding to Liu's question, Aleni affirmes the visual authenticity of Christ's icon, and further introduces the legendary acheiropoietos image of Christ.

I note with particular interest Liu's use of specific words in his question “is it life-like []?” and Aleni's emphasis on the icon's verisimilitude even in hair and beard. The phrasing of life-likeness in a portrait even to the hair and beard originates in the discussion of ancestral portraits' propriety articulated by Cheng Yi. As I discuss above, in response to criticism that questioned the validity of identifying the portrait with the deceased, the genre of ancestral portraits in China developed a remarkably mimetic mode of representation, although the issue of mimesis was seldom a central focus in Chinese art in general.47 In other words, both the questioner and Aleni were aware of this traditional disputation around ancestral portraits, and addressed their question and answer on Christ's icon in the terms formerly employed to discuss ancestral portraits.

Once the icon of the Savior or Salvator mundi had been thus perceived and understood by the Chinese through the mediation of their cultural heritage, how did it work for the Jesuit mission? I think the presentation of Christ's iconic figure was essential to the catechesis of the Chinese in the teaching of Christ's incarnation, which was always a difficult task, since the Chinese did not have the concept of a personified God comparable to Christ, and Ricci could at best compare the Christian God to the Confucian “heaven,” a vague cosmological notion. Thus came the famous criticism of the Jesuits' Confucian Catholicism as “Christianity without incarnation.”48 This probably was the reason that Aleni added those catechistic words below the Salvator mundi in Jingjie.

In the time of Ricci, it was not the icon of Christ but that of the Madonna and Child that met with strong fervor from the Chinese partially due to its resemblance to the Buddhist deity Guanyin.49 Ricci remarked that, for this very reason, a new icon of the Salvator mundi had been commissioned from the Jesuit seminary in Kyushu and brought to a church in Zhaoqing in 1583 to replace the Madonna icon on the church altar. The Jesuits had difficulty expounding the mystery of the incarnation with the Madonna and Child image; thus they needed an image of God incarnate in the church:

To this image of the Madonna and her Son, which we have installed on the altar, all the mandarins, other literati, commoners, and also the ministers of their idols, who came to visit the Fathers, showed their adoration, genuflecting to the image and bowing in front of it with much respect even to the level of the ground, and admired the fineness of our picture. . . . Truly shortly afterwards, they placed another [picture] of the Savior in the place of the Madonna, because the Fathers said that the only God has to be adored, and seeing the image of the Madonna on the altar, they could not explicate the mystery of the Incarnation, and the Chinese were even confused and many of them broadcast throughout other parts that the God we adored was a lady.50

From the time of Ricci to Aleni, the icon of the Salvator mundi did not simply serve as the focus of veneration, the usual role of an icon, but it had a strong pedagogic and catechistic purpose.

The association of Christ's icon with the catechism on incarnation is further affirmed by two Jesuit Chinese publications that deal with the history of holy images. Chen observes that in Tianzhu shengxiang laili (The history of the holy image of the heavenly lord), the mystery of the incarnation is interpreted to justify the existence of God's icon and its veneration:51

Since [God has] neither form nor sound, how can people have [God's] image?

As a result, people on earth fell into heresies, losing the root [of the universe].

For this reason the heavenly Lord, out of mercy, came down to the world to save [humankind] in the second year of the Han emperor Ai.

Taking the chaste holy woman Maria as mother,

Without polluting her chaste body, the Lord took on human nature coexisting with God's nature,

Incarnated in Judea and named Jesus, meaning “the Savior of the world.”

Setting up the norm of virtue, redeeming the sin of the world, establishing the rite of absolution, he opened the way to ascend to heaven.

For this reason we have this holy image of the incarnation [of God]; we should serve, pray, and pay gratitude to this [image].52

In the time of the Old Testament, it was not possible and even prohibited to depict the image of God, since God had no physical form. However, he became visible with the incarnation and afterwards it was deemed justified to depict him visually and worship God through his icon. It is amazing to see that this time-old justification of icons, originating in eighth-century Byzantine iconophilism, continued to appear in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century China, even though the Jesuits were not elaborating on this point as much as they did in Catholic Reformation Europe in response to Protestant iconoclasm.53

A more detailed version, Zaowuzhu chuixiang lüeshuo (A brief explanation on how the creator bestowed a [holy] image), basically presents the same teaching, but one significant phrase therein explicitly refers to the human existence of Christ as “the holy image”:

Jesus, the holy image, came down to the world by incarnation and stayed here for thirty-three years. He transmitted the scriptures in person, selected twelve apostles, and revealed many holy signs all around [the world].54

The human existence of Christ was, in a sense, the image of God. Since God endowed to humankind his image in the person of Christ, it was considered fully justified to depict God in the icon of Christ and worship God through the veneration of icons. This was, again, an essential theory in the defense of icons in Catholic Reformation Europe.

The image of the Salvator mundi, frequently referred to in the Jesuit writings of the period and integrated into the instruction on the mystery of the incarnation, however, is rarely found among the visual objects originating in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Jesuit mission in China. Given this rarity, this image in Jingjie is all the more precious. Nonetheless, it seems apparent that the icon was imported and produced in ample numbers and circulated widely in the mission area in separate leaflets. In addition to the verbal references to it I discuss throughout this essay, a number of examples of visual evidence have survived to date in Japan. The Jesuits began their Far Eastern mission in Japan and ventured into China only later, and originally the China mission belonged to the Province of Japan.55 Even after the Japan mission was practically closed down by the government persecution in 1614, it continued to be directed by the bishop of Macao. Throughout the whole period of the Jesuit mission, therefore, the mission activities in these two areas were quite closely related. Therefore the surviving examples of Salvator mundi in Japan provide some clues for understanding their counterparts in China.

In Japan, the iconography was produced in a variety of media such as painting, engraving, and Namban screen, examples of all of which have survived. The Japanese painting I discuss above (fig. 2) is especially important in its association with the China mission. This painting was produced in the Jesuit seminary in Kyushu, where Italian painter Giovanni Niccolo was teaching the native students the art of religious painting. The Chinese painter Giacopo Niwa, who later moved to Macao and worked there, was trained in this school. Both Niccolo and Niwa produced images for Chinese chapels, as Ricci records.56 Therefore, the painted versions of the Salvator mundi, mentioned in Jesuit writings, must have looked quite similar to this Japanese one. Tei Nishimura further suggests the possibility that this painting was produced by Niwa himself.57

This painting now housed in the Tokyo University Library is closely based on the Wierix brothers' engraving produced in Antwerp in the late sixteenth century, after a painting by Marten de Vos.58 Not only illustrated books such as EHI but many single-sheet prints made by the Wierix family and other Flemish printmakers made their way to East Asia and were used as catechistic aids.59 The iconography and composition of Jingjie's Salvator mundi is also derived, though less closely, from a series of Salvator mundi icons produced by the Wierix family in the early seventeenth century.60 These prints also show a bust view in three-quarter pose, a celestial globe, and a hand raised in blessing. Most of these Salvator mundi images were paired with the bust icon of the Virgin Mary on the facing side, which explains Christ's pose turned slightly to his left to face the Virgin. Interestingly, Aleni singles out only the Christ figure in these paired icons, which seems to reflect the Jesuits' Christocentric concerns at the time.

There is a very significant woodcut reproduction of Jingjie's Salvator mundi printed much later, in the nineteenth century, by the Jesuit press in Shanghai. It belongs to a booklet called Jiushizhu shixing quantu (The illustrated life of the savior), published in 1869 by a French Jesuit, Adolphe Vasseur (1828–1899).61 Its general composition is based on the prototype in Jingjie, but catechistic writings and subsidiary motifs have been boldly removed in a process of simplification. Instead, to either side of Christ appear simple sentences: “Thou, for the wide world, dost truly reveal the holy road” (); “I will, then, gather people on the right path and direct them to heaven” (). At the bottom is written “Imagines Catholicae Nankinenses,” which suggests an affiliation with a church in Nanjing. Even though this print was produced two centuries later, its similarity to Jingjie's Salvator mundi seems to suggest that Aleni's 1637 prototype could be copied and reproduced wherever Jingjie spread and attracted people's attention, as late as the nineteenth century. Woodcut was the primary medium of book illustration and popular images in the Ming dynasty, which had certainly facilitated the widespread circulation of the prototype.62

Before concluding this essay, we must discuss one final issue that needs serious examination in the historical context of contemporary Catholic Reformation Europe, an issue that concerns the terminology referring to the act of showing respect to Christ's icon. Jesuit mission activity in the Far East and the deployment of icons therein had been preceded by heated disputations against Protestant iconoclasm in sixteenth-century Europe, which themselves had precedents in eighth-century Byzantine iconoclasm and the ensuing discussions on the propriety of icon use in Christianity. Byzantine theologians defending the use of icons provided a number of rationales, one of which was to distinguish between “adoration” (latreia), which should only be directed to God, and the “veneration” (douleia) of icons.63 This terminological distinction continued to be employed by Catholic theologians in sixteenth-century German-speaking lands, most prominently by Johannes Eck (1486–1543) in his treatise “On Not Removing Images of Christ and the Saints.”64 Eck basically inherited the iconophile theories of John of Damascus (d. 749) and amplified them in his defense of icon use.65

As some of the most ardent defenders of the Catholic faith, the Jesuit missionaries must have been keenly aware of this terminological issue. In teaching the Chinese about the veneration of icons, however, they did not seem to pay much attention to the distinction between verbs that should be used for the adoration of God and those used for the veneration of icons; in contrast to their usual prudence in translating Christian terms into Chinese, their use of Chinese verbs referring to icon veneration is not clearly distinguished. The aforementioned short treatise Tianzhu shengxiang laili (The history of the holy image of the heavenly lord) simply says “persevere to serve, pray, praise, and pay thanks to it [i.e., the holy image]” (). In Kouduo richao, Aleni recounts the episode of the regional commander Liu's visit in 1630, when he and his company were literally “beholding and paying respect to the holy image” ().66 Aleni's conversation with the aforementioned guangwen on another occasion is more revealing, since this dialogue refers to respectful acts to both holy images and to God; it reads: “The heavenly Lord should be respected [] . . . and one should respect and serve the Lord's image [].”67 In the Jesuit letters I quote above, a variety of expressions appears, such as “making a bow [fazer Pai] to the image,” “adore it [the image] [adorla],” and so forth.

One possible explanation for the failure to make such a distinction might lie in the facts that the Jesuits were dealing with people of a different religious culture and that they fortunately did not encounter iconoclastic questions like those posed in a European religious context.68 The Chinese questioned the propriety of worshiping the Western God as the heavenly Lord or the propriety of commoners' or lowly folk's participation in the worship of the heavenly Lord, but did not criticize the worship of God through the intermediary medium of icons such as the Salvator mundi. Also for the Jesuits, it was probably more urgent at this incipient stage of introducing Christianity into a foreign land to distinguish their God from indigenous deities or pseudo-deities such as Buddhas, Daoist immortals, and even ancestral spirits, rather than to discuss in depth the theological subtleties involved in the institution of icons.

For the Chinese populace, the Salvator mundi was more than a mere instructive emblem of the incarnation. Just as ancestral icons, the temporary bodies of ancestors' souls, served to bring blessings and prevent ill fortune, Christ's icon was believed to vouchsafe the protection of the family, as Father Furtado notes in his letter of 1623:

Other Christians, after receiving the Holy Baptism, brought to their house the Image of the Savior, some Crucifixes, and nominas, and cleaned their house, driving out the idols set on top [of the house altar], and put on the place the Image, crucifixes, and nominas. For the following three nights, they heard in the middle of the night loud noises, as of people running out of the house in a hurry and crossing the river nearby. The Christians could not see any other causes but that the demons were leaving the house, which Christ now owned, the Lord much more powerful than the demons.69

Once the Chinese understood the mystery of the incarnation (manifested in the image of the Salvator mundi) and accepted the new faith through baptism, the image of the Savior became a new agent of protective power in the house. As its residents now recognized and served the Christian Lord, the “family” ghosts left the house, giving way to Christ, who took over the dominion of the place.

1 Shin, Junhyoung Michael, “The Reception of Evangelicae historiae imagines in Late Ming China: Visualizing Holy Topography in Jesuit Spirituality and Pure Land Buddhism,” Sixteenth Century Journal 40 (2009) 303–33, at 323–28.

2 These are, in sequence, the pictorial map of Jerusalem, the Salvator mundi, The Coronation of the Virgin, and an additional image of Crucifixion at the end of the volume. Among the numerous editions of Jingjie, I refer to the 1637 edition owned by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich (cod. sin. 23).

3 Another notable example of a Salvator mundi is found in Jincheng shuxiang (The illustrated life of Christ), published in Beijing in 1640 and presented by Johann Adam Schall von Bell, S.J., to the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Chongzhen . Since this article is dealing not simply with the iconography of Chinese images of the Salvator mundi but with its religious reception by the Chinese in relation to their Confucian household ritual and tradition, with focus on Giulio Aleni's mission area of southern Fujian, I will not discuss the one in Jincheng shuxiang, which was prepared and received in a very different court context (see Nicolas Standaert, An Illustrated “Life of Christ” Presented to the Chinese Emperor: The History of “Jincheng shuxiang” (1640) [Monumenta Serica Monograph Series 59; Nettetal, Germany: Steyler, 2007] 120–21).

4 I discuss elsewhere in detail the visual transculturation between the Jesuits' mission art and Buddhist imagery in 17th-cent. China and Japan (Shin, “Reception of EHI,”; idem, “Avalokiteśvara's Manifestation as the Virgin Mary: The Jesuit Adaptation and the Visual Conflation in Japanese Catholicism after 1614,” CH 80 [2011] 1–39).

5 Brockey, Liam Matthew, Journey to the East: The Jesuit Mission to China, 1579–1724 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007) 290309. Also see the letter of Manuel Dias the Younger of 1627 (quoted and translated below).

6 Murray, Julia K., “Illustrations of the Life of Confucius: Their Evolution, Functions, and Significance in Late Ming China,” Artibus Asiae 57 (1997) 73134, at 87–88.

7 “E dipoi di arrivato il Padre [Longobardo], posto a sedere in una sedia con una tavola inanzi a sè, cominciava a dichiarargli l'intentione della sua venuta di regni sì lontani, che era dichiarargli la vera religione de Iddio, Signore del cielo, nella quale solo si potevano gli huomini salvare. E gli recitava i dieci comandamenti. Doppo questa essortatione gli diceva volergli mostrare l'imagine de Iddio Salvatore, che aveva insegnata questa lege. E, ponendo la detta imagine, che portava seco, in luogo decente, con candele e profumi, faceva ponere a tutti inginocchioni inanzi a essa et adorarla, promettendo che lascerebbono gli idoli, e da lì inanzi riconoscerebbono il loro Creatore. Il che era facile fra quella gente semplice, con quello che già gli aveva dichiarato e per la buona fama che avevano della nostra Santa Fede. Doppo questo si dava ai principali la Dottrina christiana, exortandoli a impararla per quando là ritornasse l'altra volta” (Fonti Ricciane. Documenti originali concernanti Matteo Ricci e la storia delle prime relazione tra l'Europa e la Cina (1579–1615) [ed. Pasquale d'Elia; 3 vols.; Rome: Libreria dello Stato, 1942–1949] 2:193–94). All translations of Italian, Portuguese, and Chinese in this article are mine, unless indicated otherwise.

8 Fonti Ricciane (ed. d'Elia), 2:193–94 n. 9.

9 Bailey, Gauvin A., Art on the Jesuit Missions in Asia and Latin America, 1542–1773 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001) 7476; Noriko Kotani, “Studies in Jesuit Art in Japan” (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 2010) 90–120.

10 The Wierix Family (ed. Jan van der Stock and Marjolein Leesberg; vol. 14.3 of The New Hollstein: Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings, and Woodcuts, 1450–1700; Rotterdam: Sound and Vision Publishers, 2003) 154–55.

11 “Doctrina christiana” was a very important catechistic pamphlet in the Japanese mission, which continued to be transmitted orally and secretly in incomplete variations after the prohibition of Catholicism in 1614 (Shin, “Avalokiteśvara's Manifestation,” 35).

12 Brockey, Journey to the East, 93–98 and 305. The list is found in the letter titled “Lembrança para os padres que vam em missam cultivar os Christãos,” Jesuitas na Asia Collection at Biblioteca Ajuda 49-V-7, 317r. Transcription from this letter was provided by Prof. Maria João Amaral at the Portuguese Department, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, South Korea.

13 “A muito poucos passos della, entramos em hua aldea e logo nuas casas . . . hua sala formosissima, que actualmente estava chea de mininos come seu mestre estudando, e aqui foi meu primeiro recebimento. O vehlo Franciso, que assi se chamava, deixo me alli cõ o mestre, e mininos foi se negociar suas cousas. Começarão a vir algus letrados, fallamos da lei, perguntarão se tinhamos algua Image daqlle Deus que lhe pregava, tirei hua de arrezoada grandesa, que logo alli fiz entender naquela sala, e pegando eu de hua banda e o velho alfayate que ia tinha tornado da outra, a tivemos pendurada, encostados a hua parede da sala. E todos os mininos cõ seu mestre começarão a fazer Pai, e oração indo elle diãte como mestre de seremonias, dizendo, Adoramos vos Senhor, pedimos vos nos aiudeis, nos abrais o entendimento pera estudar. . . . este foi o primeiro encontro . . . e logo ao outro dia, começou a dar orde naquella mesma sala a fazer hu Altar, pera por, como fez, aquella mesma Image do salvador, que logo se acabou, e a noite ornado o doçel, Altar, e mesa de cheiro, se começarão as pregações” (Manuel Dias the Younger's annual letter of 1627 from Shanghai, dated May 9, 1628; Jap-Sin 115-I, 145r, Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu, Rome; transcription by Prof. Maria João Amaral). This specific letter is discussed in depth by Brockey (Journey to the East, 302–9).

14 Murray, “Illustrations of the Life of Confucius,” 74; Wilson, Thomas A., “Ritualizing Confucius/Kongzi: The Family and State Cults of the Sage of Culture in Imperial China,” in On Sacred Grounds: Culture, Society, Politics, and the Formation of the Temple of Confucius (ed. Wilson, Thomas A.; Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2002) 4394, at 72–79.

15 António de Gouvea, Cartas Ânuas da China (1636, 1643 a 1649) (ed. Horácio P. Araújo; Macau: Instituto Português do Oriente, 1998) 69, 76.

16 “Com esta fama se ajuntarão logo as pessoas, que antes tinhão fama da lei de Deus, e desejo de a ouvir, ainda que estavão auzetes, e aquella noite na sala onde estava armado o Altar, se aiutarão todos, aonde me poserão hua cadeira no principio digo no primeiro lugar. Fiz primeiro 5 ou 6 pais a Image, depois fizerão elles todos, a que se seguio a pratica, que constava de 5 pontos a 1 de que era a Image de Senhor do Ceo, criador de tudo, não pagodes, ne idolos mas Deus vivo, e verdadeiro, e de como elle criara o Ceo, os Anjos, e todas as cousas, donde não havia que adorar outros deoses, pois todos erão creaturas, ne temer aos demonios, mas servir a este unico, e verdadeiro Senhor. 2 da caida dos Anjos, criação do homem, causas da encarnação. 3 Breve explicação do credo, e misterios principaes. 4 explicação dos mandamentos. 5 das cousas necessarias pera o bautismo, qual he a resolução de seguir esta lei, a contrição dos peccados” (Jap-Sin 115-I, 145v–146r. ARSI, Rome).

17 Brockey, Journey to the East, 301.

18 Ebrey, Patricia, Confucianism and Family Rituals in Imperial China (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991) 1618.

19 “Non mancano per queste terre e villaggi predicatori di varie sette, i quali, visti alcuni di loro divoti convertiti, e temendo che, mossi dal buono essemplo di questi e dalla forza della verità da noi predicata, la cui luce scopriva i loro errori e menzogne, molti non lasciassero l'idolatria, con perder essi il credito e la sostentatione, frutto della mala semenza che spargevano, cominciarono a discreditarci con i popoli con dire che l'imagine del Salvatore era figura di qualche mio antepassato o mio proprio ritratto, cercando io, sotto protesto d'insegnar nuova legge, d'esser adorato” (Ricci's letter to Acquaviva dated October 18, 1607, from Beijing, in Opere storiche del P. Matteo Ricci, S.I. [ed. Pietro Tacchi-Venturi; 2 vols.; Macerata, Italy: Giorgetti, 1911–1913] 2:323).

20 Ebrey, Confucianism and Family Rituals, 184, including n. 58; Siggstedt, Mette, “Forms of Fate: An Investigation of the Relationship between Formal Portraiture, Especially Ancestral Portraits, and Physiognomy (xiangshu) in China,” in International Colloquium on Chinese Art History, 1991: Proceedings, Painting and Calligraphy (4 vols.; Taipei: National Palace Museum, 1992) 2:713–48, at 724–25. Also see n. 40 below.

21 Jinshui, Lin, “Chinese Literati and the Rites Controversy,” in The Chinese Rites Controversy: Its History and Meaning (ed. Mungello, David E.; Nettetal, Germany: Steyler, 1994) 6582, at 68–75.

22 For the original Chinese, see Zhuzi quanshu (Opera omnia of Zhu Xi) (ed. Jieren Zhu et al.; 27 vols.; Shanghai: Shanghai Gujichubanshe, 2002) 7:938–40. For an English translation with annotations, see Chu Hsi's Family Rituals (ed. and trans. Patricia Ebrey; Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991) 159–65. Interestingly, Bingxiang Luo interprets such religious elements in Zhu Xi's sacrificial rites as a defensive response to Buddhism and Daoism, which attracted the populace with their funerary rituals (Bingxiang Luo , “Rulizhizongjiaoyihan” [Religious allusions in Confucian rites], Lanzhoudaxue xuebao shehuikexueban [Journal of Lanzhou University, social sciences] 36 [2008] 20–27, at 24).

23 Ebrey, Confucianism and Family Rituals, 164.

24 Ricci, Matteo, China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matthew Ricci, 1583–1610 (trans. Gallagher, L. J., S.J.; New York: Random House, 1942) 9697.

25 Zürcher, Erik, “Jesuit Accommodation and the Chinese Cultural Imperative,” in The Chinese Rites Controversy: Its History and Meaning (ed. Mungello, David E.; Nettetal, Germany: Steyler, 1994) 3164, at 61; see also Lin, “Chinese Literati,” 69.

26 Jiubiao, Li, Kouduo Richao, Li Jiubiao's Diary of Oral Admonitions: A Late Ming Christian Journal (ed. and trans. Zürcher, Erik; 2 vols.; Sankt Augustin, Germany: Institut Monumenta Serica, 2007) 1:532.

27 Li, Kouduo Richao, 1:479.

28 Sommer, Deborah, “Destroying Confucius: Iconoclasm in the Confucian Temple,” in On Sacred Grounds: Culture, Society, Politics, and the Formation of the Temple of Confucius (ed. Wilson, Thomas A.; Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2002) 95133, at 106–7, 118–21.

29 For the Byzantine theory of iconophobism, see Giakalis, Ambrosios, Images of the Divine: The Theology of Icons at the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Leiden: Brill, 1994) 79, 25–26. For the period of the Reformation, see Karlstadt's, Andreas vehement criticisms of icons in “On the Removal of Images,” in A Reformation Debate: Karlstadt, Emser and Eck on Sacred Images; Three Treatises in Translation (ed. and trans. Mangrum, Bryan and Scavizzi, Giuseppe; 2nd rev. ed.; Renaissance and Reformation Texts in Translation 5; Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 1998) 2143, at 26–28.

30 Hornby, Joan, “Chinese Ancestral Portraits: Some Late Ming and Ming Style Ancestral Paintings in Scandinavian Museums,” Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 70 (1998) 173271, at 191; Siggstedt, “Forms of Fate,” 724.

31 Ebrey, Confucianism and Family Rituals, 184, including n. 58.

32 Zürcher, “Jesuit Accommodation,” 61.

33 Ebrey, Confucianism and Family Rituals, 77–80; Feng Liu , “Lunjializhongde zhengzhiyishi jiqizhengzhizuoyong—yilijiweizhongxin” (The political intents and functions in the Family Rites—with emphasis on the Book of Records), Hunandaxue xuebao shehuikexueban (Journal of Hunan University, social sciences) 4 (2005) 11–17, at 13–14.

34 Malatesta, Edward J., S.J., “A Fatal Clash of Wills: The Condemnation of the Chinese Rites by the Papal Legate Carlo Tommaso Maillard de Tournon,” in The Chinese Rites Controversy: Its History and Meaning (ed. Mungello, David E.; Nettetal, Germany: Steyler, 1994) 211246, at 211–33.

35 “Huma molher, desde menina, teve hum demonio familiar que a perseguia. Tendo noticia da Ley de Deos, a recebeo por meyo dos nossos; mas, ouvindo a pratica do cathecismo, lhe apareceo o demonio visivelmente com huma espada nua, e metendo-lha na mão, lhe mandou que matasse ao Padre que a cathequizava, senão logo a havia de matar com a mesma espada. Commonicou a molher o conselho de Satanaz ao Padre, e recebendo o santo bautismo, ficou livre do cativeiro em que o demonio a tinha tantos annos” (Gouvea, Cartas Ânuas, 66).

36 For the meaning of the word in 17th- and 18th-cent. Portuguese, see Viterbo, Joaquim de Santa Rosa de, Elucidario das Palavras (Lisbon: A. J. Fernandes Lopes, 1865) 304.

37 (Li Jiugong , Lixiu yijian [The mirror of exhortation to cultivation] [2 vols.; Chinois 6878, Bibliothéque nationale de France (publication information unknown)] 2:6b). This particular story is translated by Erik Zürcher, but I am using my own translation to make it more literal. For Zürcher's translation, see “The Lord of Heaven and the Demons: Strange Stories from a Late Ming Christian Manuscript,” in Religion und Philosophie in Ostasien. Festschrift für Hans Steininger zum 65. Geburtstag (ed. Gert Naundorf, Karl-Heinz Pohl, and Hans-Hermann Schmidt; Würzburg: Königshausen Neumann, 1985) 357–76, at 365–66.

38 Zürcher also indicates that this ghost might be related to Hong's clan (“Lord of Heaven,” 366 n. 10).

39 Choi, Jae-keun, The Origin of the Roman Catholic Church in Korea: An Examination of Popular and Governmental Responses to Catholic Missions in the Late Choson Dynasty (Norwalk, Calif.: Hermit Kingdom Press, 2006) 240–46; Grayson, James Huntley, Early Buddhism and Christianity in Korea: A Study in the Emplantation of Religion (Leiden: Brill, 1985) 7784.

40 On ancestral portraits and their use in the rites, see Stuart, Jan, “Calling Back the Ancestor's Shadow: Chinese Ritual and Commemorative Portraits,” Oriental Art 43 (1997) 817; Stuart, Jan and Rawski, Evelyn S., Worshiping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits (Washington, D.C.: Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 2001) 3549; Siggstedt, “Forms of Fate,” 713–48; and Hornby, “Chinese Ancestral Portraits,” 190–94.

41 Shin, “Reception of EHI,” 325–28.

42 Criveller, Gianni, Preaching Christ in Late Ming China: The Jesuits' Presentation of Christ from Matteo Ricci to Giulio Aleni (Taipei: Taipei Ricci Institute, 1997) 241; Dehergne, J., S.J., “Une vie illustrée de Notre-Seigneur au temps des Ming,” Nouvelle revue de science missionaire 14 (1958) 103–15, at 113.

43 Hui-hung Chen, “Encounters in Peoples, Religions, and Sciences: Jesuit Visual Culture in Seventeenth-Century China” (Ph.D. diss., Brown University, 2004) 266–81.


45 Li, Kouduo Richao, 1:357–58.

46 Ibid., 1:224–25, 227.

47 Siggstedt, “Forms of Fate,” 724–25.

48 Zürcher, “Jesuit Accommodation,” 43–47.

49 Shin, “Avalokiteśvara's Manifestation,” 11–12.

50 “A questa imagine della Madonna et al suo figliuolo, che avevamo posta nell'altare, tutti i mandarini et altri letterati e gente del popolo, e parimente i ministri de'loro idoli, che venivano a visitare i Padri, adoravano tutti, facendo le loro genuflessioni et inclinazioni della fronte sino al suolo con molto rispetto, e si admiravano dell'artificio della nostra pintura. . . . È vero che puoco dipoi, in luogo della Madonna, posero un'altra del Salvatore; perciocchè, dicendo i Padri che si aveva d'adorare un solo Dio, e vedendo l'imagine della Madonna nell'altare, senza potersi così presto dichiarare il misterio dell'Incarnazione, venivano i Cinesi a restare un puoco confusi, e molti divolgavano per alter parti che il Dio che noi adoravamo era donna” (Fonti Ricciane [ed. d'Elia], 1:193–94).

51 Chen, “Encounters,” 279.

52 (Chinois 7276 XI [a single folio], Bibliothèque nationale de France; repr., Chinese Christian Texts from the National Library of France [ed. Nicolas Standaert et al.; 26 vols.; Taipei: Taipei Lishixueshe, 2009] 24:603–4).

53 Helmut Feld discusses the Jesuits' Catholic Reformation defense of icon use, especially as regards St. Robert Bellarmine's iconophilism, in Der Ikonoklasmus des Westens (Leiden: Brill, 1990) 211–16.

54 (Giulio Aleni et al., Tianzhujiao dongchuan wenxian sanpian [Documents of the Christian mission in the Far East] [6 vols.; Taipei: Taiwan Xuesheng Shuju, 1972] 2:557).

55 Brockey, Journey to the East, 64–66.

56 Chen, “Encounters,” 272–73. Ricci's mentions of the image of the Savior appear in Fonti Ricciane (ed. d'Elia), 1:231, 2:258.

57 Tei Nishimura , Namban bijutsu (Namban art) (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1958) 21.

58 See n. 10 above.

59 Chen, “Encounters,” 272–73; Menegon, Eugenio, “Jesuit Emblematica in China: The Use of European Allegorical Images in Flemish Engravings Described in the Kouduo richao (ca. 1640),” Monumenta Serica: Journal of Oriental Studies 55 (2007) 389437.

60 Wierix Family (ed. Van der Stock and Leesberg), 140–65.

61 Chinois 6814, Bibliothèque nationale de France.

62 Xiaobai Chu , “Mingqing qiduzongjiao huaxiangliubuzhuangkuang zongshu” (The circumstances of christian images' circulation in the Ming and Qing dynasties), Shijie zongjiao yanjiu (Studies in world religions) 2 (2011) 178–82, at 180.

63 Giakalis, Images of the Divine, 118–22; Daniel J. Sahas, Icon and Logos: Sources in Eighth-Century Iconoclasm (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986) 17 n. 61.

64 Johannes Eck, “On Not Removing Images of Christ and the Saints,” in A Reformation Debate: Karlstadt, Emser and Eck on Sacred Images; Three Treatises in Translation (ed. and trans. Bryan Mangrum and Giuseppe Scavizzi; 2nd rev. ed.; Renaissance and Reformation Texts in Translation 5; Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 1998) 97–125, at 119–21.

65 Feld, Ikonoklasmus des Westens, 144–47.

66 Li, Kouduo Richao, 2:636.

67 Ibid., 2:675.

68 As I discuss above, the Chinese had also had a comparable history of iconoclasm in their Confucian tradition as regards the images of Confucius venerated in sacrificial rituals dedicated to the sage. However, there is no missionary report indicating the Chinese ever questioned the validity of using icons in Christian rituals and devotional practices.

69 “Outro Christão depois de receber o Santo Baptismo levou para sua casa a Imagem do Salvador, Alguãs Cruzes, e nomes de Jesus impressos, e limpou a casa, lançando della os pagodes feitos em cima, e pos em seo lugar a Imagem, e cruzes, e o santo nome, por tres noites seguintes ouvia a meia noite rumor, e tropel como de gente que sahia de sua casa, e passava p.a hum rio que estava junto della. Não poderão os Christãos cuidar outra couza, senão que era demonio q deixava a casa, que tanto Xpõ possuira, a outro Sr. mais forte que elle” (Father Furtado's annual letter of 1623 from Hangzhou, dated April 10, 1624. Jesuitas na Asia Collection at Biblioteca da Ajuda, Lisbon, 49-V-6:128v). I deeply thank Prof. Brockey for generously offering me his transcription of this portion. His outstanding book Journey to the East enlightened me about the Portuguese sources of the Jesuit mission in East Asia, and this article is the first fruit of my Portuguese study.