PRINT by DANIEL MITSUI
I received a commission to create a Catholic religious drawing in a Chinese style. These explorations into artistic traditions outside of European Christendom are always exciting, and China was new territory for me. When developing the concept for the project, I looked to one of the early missionaries to China, the Italian priest Matteo Ricci.
Some time in the early 17th century, Ricci gifted four European prints to the Chinese publisher Cheng Dayue: two engravings by Anthony Wierix from a series illustrating the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, another by the same artist reproducing the painting of the Virgin of Antigua in Seville Cathedral, and one by Crispin De Pas the Elder from a series illustrating the life of Lot.
Master Cheng copied these images into his Ink Garden, a model book of illustrations and calligraphy. The missionary saw this as a good opportunity to disseminate lessons in Christian doctrine and morality among the Chinese population.
I found the circumstances that brought these four images together so interesting that I decided to create a single work including all of them. I imagined that this sort of work might have been created by a Ming artist who came into possession of Master Cheng’s Ink Garden.
I am a contemporary American artist espousing medieval principles, here imagining what a Ming artist might have produced had he copied another Ming artist copying Dutch Baroque artists (one of them copying a medieval Spanish artist!). So I did not attempt to work in a pure style of any kind; I figured that the Western and Eastern influences were already inextricable. I consider this drawing not an exercise in historical fiction, but an original work of my own in which my growing interest in Chinese art is especially apparent. Ming porcelain was especially on my mind, which is why I drew most of the picture in blue ink.
Matteo Ricci wrote commentaries on three of the pictures, which also were included in Master Cheng’s book. One elaborates on St. Peter sinking beneath the waves as comes to meet Jesus walking upon the sea, another on the resurrected Christ and his two disciples walking together to Emmaus, the third on the destruction of Sodom.
Clearly, Ricci did not have on hand the engravings that he really wanted to use. The picture that accompanies the first lesson actually depicts St. Peter swimming to meet the Resurrected Christ standing on the seashore; Ricci rewrote the Gospel narrative somewhat to make the discrepancy less obvious. In my own drawing, I instead corrected the image instead to match the Gospel.
Master Cheng’s Ink Garden includes a picture of an angel blinding the men of Sodom. For this, I substituted one of the city’s destruction, as this is the actual subject of Ricci’s lesson. The skeleton is based on one painted in a handscroll by Luo Pin. This, too, is a Chinese work of art that copies a European print, an engraving by Hendrik Hondius the Elder. Ricci’s lesson includes a curious detail not mentioned in the Book of Genesis; he tells that the consuming fire from heaven incinerated not only the men of the city, but the animals and insects as well. It is for this reason that I drew a horse and a moth engulfed in flames.
The Virgin and Child in my picture are Sinicized, but have the same posture and attributes as the figures in the painting in Seville; the Virgin holds a flower, and the Christ Child a goldfinch. Next to Mary, is a roundel with a Chinese ideograph for goodness. This refers to another of Ricci’s efforts in his mission to China, his introduction of the classical mnemonic method expounded by Quintilian to members of the Ming bureaucracy. This is the fourth of four characters used as examples in his treatise; he divides it vertically into two separate characters, one signifying woman, and the other child, and attaches to it the mnemonic image of a young woman holding a child in her arms and playing with him. The resonance of this character with the image of the Blessed Virgin is obvious.
I modified the colors from the original drawing when creating the print file (shown here) and made a few other small changes.
Dimensions: 12 1/2" square, intended to be displayed obliquely
An open-edition giclée print is available for $144. You may use the button below to pay via PayPal, debit card or credit card. Be sure to confirm the shipping address.
See this page for additional ordering instructions and general information. If you want to pay via a check or money order, please e-mail me at danielmitsuiartist at gmail dot com.