Christian Art Gallery
Traders brought their Christian faith from the Middle East through Central Asia, China, and India as early as the 7th century. In the 16th century, Europeans – first the Portuguese and soon after, the Spanish too – brought Catholic missionaries with them on trading voyages. Trade and the spread of the Catholic faith shared a symbiotic relationship. Goa, Malacca, Manila, Macau, Nagasaki, and other trading port cities became bases for Christian missions. In the 17th century, the Dutch Protestants, centred in Batavia (Jakarta), also began to seek converts in Southeast Asia.
The Christian Art Gallery explores Christian works of art used or made in Asia. Many objects on display are products of cross-cultural artistic exchanges between Asia and Europe. They tell stories of cultural diversity and religious tolerance, and show how encounters with other religions can precipitate exquisite creations.
Spread of the Faith
As Christianity spread across Asia, new works of art were required to convey Christian stories, embellish churches, and motivate new converts. Asian Christian art combines well-established European imagery with Asian artistic traditions. The materials and techniques used to make these artworks were mostly Asian; the subjects and imagery traditionally Western.
The art on display here is a product of cross-cultural artistic exchanges between Asia and Europe. The objects tell stories of diversity and tolerance, and show that religious interactions can give birth to marvellous works of art.
Panel depicting St Francis Xavier
India, Goa, 17th century
Painted and gilded teakwood
112.7 x 54 x 7.7 cm
This panel shows a most famous miracle related to the Catholic missionary Saint Francis Xavier. When Francis was travelling between the islands of Ambon and Seram on his evangelising mission, his ship encountered a storm. To try to calm the seas, he threw his crucifix into the rough waters. The ship managed to dock safely. And as it did, a crab appeared holding the crucifix in its claws, returning it to Francis Xavier. This is one of the most popular episodes from the life of the saint, and served as inspiration for many artworks after his death, including images of crabs. From the panel's size and high-quality of carving, it was likely commissioned for a church.
Virgin and Child with John the Baptist
Muhammad Zaman (active 1649–1700)
Iran, signed and dated 1682–83
Colour and gold on paper
image 17.2 x 11.1 cm
This image of the Christian Virgin and Child was based on a European print, but the artist has imaginatively varied the scene. It was probably made for a Muslim patron because it was added to an Islamic album containing drawings and calligraphies soon after it was made (the colourful borders here are the album page). Christian subjects in Islamic art might be surprising, but the Virgin, Christ, and John the Baptist are respected figures in Islam. The openness of Iran to the outside world in the 17th century brought Europeans to the capital Isfahan. The influence of European works of art on Iranian artists can be seen in their use of perspective, blended shading, and attention to Western motifs.