2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

Visual Objects and Personal Interactions: Their Contexts as Described by the Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552-1610)

Hui-hung Chen

Department of History, National Taiwan University

The primary figure of the early Jesuit China missions, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), in his work entitled Della Entrata della Compagnia di Giesù e Christianità nella Cina (On the Entrance of the Society of Jesus and Christianity in China), describes numerous uses of images and visual objects to attract the attention of the Chinese. These descriptions reveal the contexts of Jesuit interaction and communication between missions in regions such as China and Japan by the transmission of religious images and objects. This work may be the richest source for visual objects written by a single author in late-Ming Catholicism. However, research on this source from the perspective of visual objects is rare. My research investigates those descriptions,along with other related Jesuit literature, showing how the two cultures interacted by means of these visual objects and what these descriptions reveal about their intended uses. This study employs theoretical considerations of visual language and material culture from anthropology to interpret the nature of these visual objects and their communicative functions. Ricci stated his view that the Chinese would like to see images, have conversations and meetings with the Jesuits, and obtain further information about them and their religion. In addition, Ricci usually used the term “cosa” (thing) to indicate any object, both sacred and secular. In most instances, these “things” or “objects” played a dual role: to initiate a friendship, and to maintain an amicable relationship.  The Jesuit interaction contexts were built upon friendships, in which all objects as gifts were “signs” to indicate the successful development of friendly relations; and in this process the Christian images also took on a secular dimension.


Keywords: Jesuits, Matteo Ricci, images, visual objects, visual languages, material culture