N° 49

Post 1838 (Minerve hallmark)
gilded silver
Qing Dynasty, 1750 - 1850
Cloisonné enamel
H. 28.5 cm
Paris , Foreign Missions

This chalice is composed of two elements, distinct as to their origin and the material employed: a French-made gilded silver goblet is partially slotted into stemmed Chinese goblet coated in cloisonné enamel.

The stem features two horizontally-disposed Greek crosses and flares out widely towards the base with its lobed contour. The chalice is of a traditional shape used in Roman catholic rituals; its novelty lies in its decoration and Chinese cloisonné enamel work.

Some of the Christian iconography derives from the intended use of the object: the bird with a halo appearing in four medallions no doubt alludes to the four Evangelists; the other such features include the hand of God, the Holy Trinity symbolised by a triangle, the paschal lamb - unusually depicted in black enamel by the Chinese craftsman - and the dove of the Holy Ghost, at the extremities of the two crosses. Finally, on the stem, a copy of the Crucifixion from a European engraving is faithfully transcribed in a plated cartouche set amidst a bed of flowers.

Those Christian symbols are accompanied by a number of iconographic elements drawn from the repertory of Qing and Ming cloisonné enamels: a lakeside scene with carps on the goblet, and the flower bed on the lower stem surrounded by a frieze of beasts from the Chinese zodiac, including the inevitable dragon -seemingly out of place in a sacred Christian context where it symbolises Evil. The theme of the vine is perhaps the most striking symbol, symbolising to Europeans the wine of communion, and to the Chinese a familiar theme, particularly in cloisonné work of around 1500.

The teeming decor is enhanced by the quality and variety of opaque and translucid enamels set against a plain background of pink enamel.

The result is a surprisingly syncretic object in which European form and decor have been harnessed to Chinese technique. The symbols represented in this combination of features drawn from two different cultures, however, occasionally strike a discordant note

Béatrice Quette