Porcelain jar with underglaze blue decoration, circa 1610-1630. Tianqi-Chongzhen period, Ming dynasty. Registration number: 1963,0520.4 © The Trustees of the British Museum
This heavily potted ovoid jar has a short neck with an out-turned rim. It is painted in bright underglaze blue around the shoulder with a 'kraak'-style diaper and petal-panel design and around the foot with stylized lappets. Between these it is painted with rare European motifs. Among highly stylized formal flower sprays are six ogival panels, two of them enclosing an oval medallion with the monogram of Christ, 'IHS', below the cross and above three arrows symbolizing the Trinity, enclosed by radiating rays of light and surrounded on four sides by cherubs; the four other medallions are inscribed with the initials 'S' and 'P' respectively, enclosed in an elaborate-shaped frame. Height: 33.5 centimetres. Diameter: 27.7 centimetres (widest point). Weight: 5.65 kilograms.
The monogram 'IHS' became the main emblematic device of the Jesuit order and similar versions are often seen on the title pages of books by Portuguese Jesuit missionaries active in the Far East. The initials 'S' and 'P' are those of the Jesuit College of St Paul (Sao Paulo) at Macau, whose church was built between 1594 and 1602. At the time it functioned as a university, and its only remaining part after a fire in 1835 is the stone façade and steps, which today are Macau's most famous landmark. The present jar is apparently one of a small number of such pieces ordered by the College, others now being in the Casa-Museu Dr Anastacio Goncalves, Lisbon, Portugal; in the G. Alpoim Calvao Collection, Cascais, Portugal; and in a private Japanese collection. The non-Chinese flower motifs appear to imitate stylized flower patterns found in European embroideries of the early seventeenth century. This jar was acquired from the collection of a French-Canadian, M. Pelland, living in Quebec province, who had bought the jar as part of the William Cummins Collection. Cummins was a railway engineer who worked on the Bombay-Calcutta line and assembled his Chinese porcelain collection in India between 1864 and 1886. On retirement, he settled in Canada.