Today's Gospel in Art - My Father is the Vine Grower

  • Patrick van der Vorst

Chinese Export Silver Chalice, Made in Cutshing, China, 1860 © Pushkin Antiques, London

Chinese Export Silver Chalice, Made in Cutshing, China, 1860 © Pushkin Antiques, London

Gospel of 13th May 2020 - John 15:1-8

'I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Reflection on the work of art

Christian religious objects of Chinese Export Silver are relatively rare. Even though Christianity was already introduced and present in China since the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD), most of the Christian religious items were made for export to Europe; few were kept in China itself. One of the key figures for the further expansion of Christianity in China is Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), an Italian Jesuit priest, who came to Macau in 1578 and moved to China after mastering the language. He compiled the first Western Chinese dictionary and drew the first western-style map of China. He was quick to appreciate how Western and Chinese music might connect, and built bridges mainly through the art of music initially. Along with another Jesuit father, he was the first European to enter the Forbidden City of Beijing, during the reign of the Wanli Emperor.

The chalice we are looking at today is a good example of 19th-century export silver for the European markets. There is a fascinating mix between local Chinese scenes of everyday life, and Western motifs (such as the acanthus leaves on the stem and the overall very European shape). It is mainly the top border and the bottom circular foot we are looking at: the vine leaves, which are mentioned in today's Gospel. Jesus invites us into a very close relationship with Him, which he compares to the relationship between a vine and the branches that grow on it: Jesus's life flows into us, the branches, the leaves... Vines which produce wine... poured into a chalice...


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Tags: Christian Art Today, Patrick van der Vorst, Matteo Ricci, Silver Chalice

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