Can you help with this Chinese Crucifixion Scroll?

Yesterday I received an email from a Dutch reader seeking some background on a “Japanese or Chinese scroll” featuring the crucifixion of Christ. To me it seems Chinese, rather than Japanese, and it obviously post-dates European contact, but beyond that I can’t place it. Can anybody help out? You can view a few of the close ups here.

Jesus scroll (2)

9 thoughts on “Can you help with this Chinese Crucifixion Scroll?

  1. Definitely Chinese, maybe with traditional characters (before the character set was simplified post-Mao).
    Angels collecting blood in chalices was a motif in medieval crucifixion art. Gogling gives 1400 and 1500 dates.
    The Jesuits were the first to go into China.
    > Three decades later, in 1582, Jesuits once again initiated mission work in China, led by several figures including the Italian Matteo Ricci, introducing Western science, mathematics, astronomy, and _visual arts_ to the imperial court, and carrying on significant inter-cultural and philosophical dialogue with Chinese scholars, particularly representatives of Confucianism.


  2. Interesting, I wasn’t aware Mao simplified the characters. I took an introductory Mandarin course about a decade ago but had to pull out due to work commitments, leaving me with a vague familiarity with the language but not much beyond that.
    Very interested in your comments on the date range for the blood in chalice motif. The work seemed very Catholic to me too, and yes that immediately raises questions regarding possible Jesuit missionary influence, but I hadn’t realized the blood and chalice motif was dated to roughly the same period. That’s very suggestive of it being heavily influenced by the early Jesuits, even if its not an original.
    Following this lead I’ve looked up images of early Jesuit dress, including images of Ricci. Take a look at this one – – it seems a reasonable match to both the Chinese and European figures in this artwork. I’m now focusing on “Chinese Jesuit Art” as a search term.


  3. Have a look a this image as well.
    Having searched through multiple images I’m almost certain now that the lower left figure in the crucifixion scene is supposed to be Matteo Ricci.
    I think the figure at his right is supposed to be “Xu Guangqi (1562 – 1633), a very influential convert to Christianity, was a member of the Ming Dynasty bureaucracy from Shanghai who rose to the rank of Imperial Grand Secretary”


  4. Hey, there will definitely be slight inaccuracy here but this is my attempt at ‘translating’. This is only the main subtitles and the last block of text:
    Foolishly I only now realize the purpose of Christ’s crucifixion; all the Holy Saints join in the experience of His salvation mercy.
    I worship and hope upon the truth behind the five wounds on the holy flesh of my Lord Jesus.
    Therefore as I ponder upon this, I cannot help but be thankful, amidst my sadness, that my Lord Jesus has, in His great mercy, atoned me, remembered me, hoped for me, thirst(?) for me and assisted me in my heavenward journey. I sincerely pray that my Lord Jesus will not forsake nor abandon me for forgetting His mercy and that I will not lose the eternally precious 5 treasures: 5 numbers, 5 eyes, 5 wellsprings, 5 chains?? and 5 doors. Amen.


  5. Christina’s translation is fairly accurate.
    But I’m curious about what the significance of 5 here? it appears not only in the paragraph but also repeated in the smaller panels on the sides. It isn’t quite a “Christian number” like say, 7 or 12 or 40? Neither is it of any significance to Chinese culture, as far as I’m aware of.
    And yes, the Chinese script was simplified around 1954. But the traditional script is still widely in use outside of China (Taiwan, Hong Kong etc.)… so motifs of chalices aside, I’m not sure if you can date it according to the script.


  6. I don’t think this piece could be dated or placed according to calligraphy, which is very standard in any case. Matt’s assessment that the figure lower left is most likely Ricci is a very good one, although if it’s Ricci he is pictured rather younger here than is usual. As for the other figure, the words on his sash may answer this, but the characters aren’t legible in the photos.
    Especially interesting is the 5 motif. It almost seems like a personal mystical symbology. At least there’s nothing on the internet that can clarify it, as searching for the list 五寶五猇五眼五泉五綆五門 or its elements calls up nothing (綆 by the way is a rope to bring water up from a well). Is the figure lower right the convert for whom the number 5 is important? Is the figure on the left then the Jesuit who brought him to faith–perhaps not Ricci but another? There were many Jesuits in China, and they’d made over half a million converts before the mission ended. Is the convert re-interpreting something from Taoism in the context of Christianity?
    The fact that the Jesuit mission in China ended in the latter 18th century–the Pope disbanded the entire Jesuit order–argues that this is either an authentic scroll from the period or a good copy of one.
    One more thing: I’m certain I’ve seen a woodblock replica of the insert “5 doors” lower left, though I can’t recall where. I’m certain of it though.
    If Curious girl can get better photos, or more information, I could maybe offer more assistance.


  7. On the significance of the number 5. I have done some research into Christian number symbolism over the years and from what I’ve found 5 symbolizes the five wounds Christ suffered on the cross (hands, feet, and side) and by extension represents sacrifice. Less commonly it can also symbolize the pentateuch. These associations seems to be a product of later tradition, especially Catholic, rather than anything emphatically scriptural, unlike the number 7. As for the 5 treasures, etc, that’s new for me.


  8. The one you are calling Ricci looks more like the traditional depiction of Saint Francis Xavier. I would have thought that was Ricci on the right.


  9. Also, I think I see the Magi from the East who adored at the manger there on the left as well… Interesting.


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