Vatican holds first Chinese Catholic art exhibition in China
For the first time on the Mainland, more than 70 Chinese-origin mostly Catholic artworks from the Vatican Museums are part of an ongoing exhibition in Beijing, a sign of an evolving truce between China and the Vatican City, which did not have diplomatic ties since 1951.
The exhibition has been put up at China’s most prestigious gallery, Palace Museum, the former imperial palace also known as the Forbidden City, located in the heart of Beijing.
It includes 78 items, including paintings and sculptures; there is one on Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles with each depicted with a Chinese face, wearing traditional Chinese clothes.
“In another painting, Mary, Jesus Christ, and an angel are in a typical Chinese garden in which there is a towering rock. The composition may recall traditional figurative painting from the Song Dynasty (960-1279),” a state media report said.
The exhibition, which also includes Chinese Buddhist artifacts available with the Vatican Museums, took three years to organise while choosing the exhibits took about three months.
The exhibition comes in the backdrop of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) open efforts to sinicise -- moulding faiths and traditions with Chinese characteristics – Christianity, arguably the fastest spreading religion in officially atheist China.
Rights groups have also called for the release of Wang Yi, the pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church who has been in detention since last December. His wife, Jiang Rong, was only released this month.
In a speech in March, Xu Xiaohong head of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China, -- which is approved by the government and not recognised by the Vatican -- said there were many problems with Christianity in the country, including “infiltration” from abroad and “private meeting places”.
“It must be recognised that our movement’s surname is ‘China’ and not ‘Western’,” Xu was quoted as saying.
“Anti-China forces in the West are trying to continue to influence China’s social stability and even subvert our country’s political power through Christianity and it is doomed to fail,” he said.
China officially recognises the five religions of Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism but the freedom to practice the faiths is severely restricted.
Despite the backdrop of the reported persecution of Christians in China, the organisers of the exhibition have focused on “…centuries of China-Vatican friendship” as well as on the “exquisite artefacts which integrate Catholic and Chinese arts,” says an introduction to the exhibition.
In that backdrop, it is appropriately titled: “Beauty Unites Us: Chinese Art from the Vatican Museums” another pointer to the possible rapprochement between China and the Vatican.
“As the name “Beauty Unites Us” indicates, we hope this journey into the beauty of the art of China and of The Vatican helps to unite us on the road towards a future of lasting friendship,” Paolo Nicolini, administrative-managing delegate of the Vatican Museums wrote in an introduction to the exhibition.
“The Vatican is a treasury of fine art with abundant masterpieces,” Wang Xudong, director of the Palace Museum, was quoted as saying by the state-controlled newspaper, China Daily.
“I’m so glad that the Vatican Museums could have a rendezvous with the 600-year-old Forbidden City in such a beautiful way.”