Martino Martini (1614 – 1661), an Italian Jesuit missionary in China
Artist/ Artist dates Michaelina Wautier (c.1617 - 1689)
Date of artwork 1654
Medium Oil on canvas ( inscription in Chinese upper right: ‘Wei Kuang Guo’ (sitter’s name)
Size 27 1⁄4 x 23 1/8 in. (69.5 x 59 cm.)

Provenance

Auction, Dobiaschofsky, Bern, 18 – 19 October 1973, Lot 665, (incorrectly identified as ‘Johannes Hus'); Private collection, Switzerland, until 2016; Koller Auction House, Zurich, 23 March 2016, lot 3057.

Literature

K. Van der Stighelen, ‘Prima inter pares. Over de voorkeur van aartshertog Leopold-Wilhelm voor Michaelina Woutiers (c.1620 – 1682)', in: H. Vlieghe & K. van der Stighelen, (ed.): Sponsors of the Past. Flemish Art and Patronage 1550 – 1700, pp. 91-116, fig. 24 & p. 108. The painting has been requested for a forthcoming exhibition on the artist to be held at the Rubenshuis, Antwerp in the summer of 2018, curated by K. van der Stighelen.

Description

This remarkable painting is an extraordinary, indeed unique portrayal of the Italian Jesuit missionary Martino Martini, who settled in 1643 in the Chinese city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province. It was painted in 1654 by the exceptional female artist, Flemish-born Michaelina Wautier, when Martini was passing through the Archducal court at Brussels. He was en route from China to Rome where he would arrive in the spring of 1655 to present on behalf of the Chinese Mission Superior. Pivotally, Wautier painted Martini in Manchu costume, and inscribed his name on the portrait in Chinese characters. This was an important symbolic reference to Martini's support of an ‘inculturated' approach to Christian indoctrination in Jesuit missionary practice. Michaelina Wautier was exceptional as a female artist, turning her hand to all genres, excelling at portrait, history, still life, and everyday scenes. Her paintings display a power of observation that is reminiscent of the great Baroque painters of her day, certainly on a par with if not even more astonishing than her Italian counterpart, Artemisia Gentileschi. Wautier's oeuvre today consists of around twenty-nine paintings including the present, newly ascribed portrait, and one drawing. This portrait is unique as a study of an older, Jesuit missionary, with the added allure of its unusual Oriental connection. Clearly painted from life, Wautier closely crops the picture plane to enhance Martini's immediacy. He does not face the spectator, instead concentrating on something beyond the picture frame. Lost deep in thought, he solicits a general feeling of melancholy contemplation – which Wautier has brilliantly conceived with the limpid white highlights to his eyes. She has observed this with what could be considered a particularly female sensibility. In turn, the padded blue silk of Martini's oriental costume adds physical weight to his presence that belies the ethereal quality of his expression. Martini's full beard and red fur-lined Manchu cap highlight his exoticism, and the fluid rendering of his beard is astonishing. Wautier's brushwork varies from subtle touches to more vigorous strokes, rendering the different textures of skin, drapery and hair with great confidence. Martino Martini, cartographer, historian and Jesuit missionary, was born in Trento, becoming a Jesuit in 1631 and studying Classics and Philosophy at the Roman College in Rome (1634 – 1637). From 1637 – 1639 he studied theology in Lisbon, where he was ordained a priest. His request to travel as a missionary to China had been granted as early as 1637, but he did not set out for China until 1640, arriving in Portuguese Macau in 1642, where he studied Chinese before continuing his travels. In 1643 he settled in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, from where he travelled through northern China to compile geographic data on the country. He was very much a self-styled adventurer, travelling in the midst of the Manchu conquest – at that time the Ming capital of Beijing had fallen to rebel control, and the last legitimate Ming Emperor, the Chongzhen Emperor, had hung himself. According to Martini's own writings which appeared in some editions of his De bello tartarico, the Jesuit was able to switch his allegiance to China's new Qing Dynasty with relative ease. He shaved his head in the Manchu way, and his Chinese dress and hat were worn in the Manchu- style, as seen in the present portrait. Thus the Manchus allowed him to return to his Hangzhou church, providing him and the Hangzhou Christian community with necessary protection. Nonetheless, David E. Mungello notes that for Martini's first four years in Hangzhou the missionary must have stayed relatively close to Hangzhou as the Baitou peasant uprising would have made travel very dangerous. Martini must have been a charismatic and convincing character, for he ultimately engratiated himself sufficiently with the Manchus, in spite of having possibly entered into the service of one of the Ming pretenders, the Longwu emperor (Zhu Yujia) – supposedly forging a cannon for the Ming general Liu Zhongcao, earning him the name of ‘gunpowder mandarin' (huo-yao dachen). His split allegiances ultimately caused Martini to alienate fellow Jesuit, Fr. Adam Schall von Bell (1592 – 1666) at the Bureau of Astronomy in Beijing, with whom Martini had hoped to obtain an official appointment. Schall was concerned that Martini's association with the Ming Pretender would damage the Jesuits' tenuous standing with the new rulers of China. Thus when in 1651 Martini left China for Rome as the Delegate of the Chinese Mission Superior, his departure was timely. He took advantage of the long, adventurous voyage (going first to the Philippines, from thence on a Dutch privateer to Bergen, Norway, which he reached on 31 August 1653, and then to Amsterdam). He met with printers in Antwerp, Vienna and Munich to submit historical and cartographic data on China, and the works printed made him famous. It was at this time that he must have met with and commissioned Wautier to paint his portrait, passing through the Archducal court at Brussels, presumably in 1654. Indeed, Wautier was very likely introduced to Martini by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, whom he had met in Antwerp earlier that year. Wautier was one of the Archduke's favourite painters, owning no less than four paintings by her (now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). The inventory of his collection, drawn up in Vienna in 1659, today provides the most important contemporary source of information about her works, and notably Wautier was the only woman painter represented in his outstanding collection. From this one can assume she must also have been held in high regard in the context of the court of Archduke Albrecht and Archduchess Isabella at Brussels. The importance of the commission for Martino Martini is not to be underestimated. His report to Rome hung in the balance for the Chinese Jesuit missionaries. In the spring of 1655 he finally reached Rome where he presented a detailed communication from the Chinese Jesuit missionaries in defence of their ‘inculturated' approach to indoctrination. Their belief in allowing the so-called ‘Chinese Rites' – veneration of ancestors, and other practices to new Chinese Christians was a pivotal and contentious doctrine. In Wautier's powerful portrait, Martini's decision to be shown in Manchu dress was no coincidence: it was an important statement of his political position in Jesuit missionary practice – his support of a degree of cultural appropriation and tolerance. Discussions and debates in Rome took place for five months, at the end of which the church issued a decree in favour of the Jesuits on 23 March 1656 – no small accomplishment on Martini's part. After a dramatic return voyage to China (in which he was captured by pirates near Valencia, Spain), Martini finally arrived back at Hangzhou in June of 1659, able to report his favourable result. He was again involved in pastoral and missionary activities in the Hangzhou area, supported in his plans by the influential governor of Zhejiang province, Tong Guoqi – a member of the famous Tong clan of Fushun, who had collaborated with the Manchus during the conquest of the Ming. The family had become so influential and filled so many offices in the palace that they were known as the family that ‘fills half the court' (Tong ban chao). Tong Guoqui had been introduced to Christianity when the Manchus conquered Beijing, and he disliked the cramped Hangzhou church, urging Martini to build a new church, which still stands today. Martini acquired a plot of land in the northern part of the city near Heavenly Water Bridge (Tianshui quiao), just inside the North Wall Gate. He initiated the construction of a three-naves church, considered as one of the most beautiful in the country. It took from 1659 until 1661 to complete, but sadly Martini never lived to see its completion, dying very suddenly in June of 1661 after overdosing on a potent cathartic drug in attempts to relieve digestive problems probably associated with cholera. His tomb can still be seen today in the churchyard at Hangzhou. Martini is now most famous for his colourfully descriptive journals of his travels and his pioneering cartography of China, from which the first European maps of the country were engraved. Indeed, he is acclaimed as the father of Chinese geographical science, and the first to study the history and geography of China with rigorous scientific objectivity. Wautier was probably born in Mons, southwest of Brussels. Her father was engaged as secretary to the Viceroy of Naples, but died shortly after Michaelina's birth. There is no proof that she lived anywhere other than Mons in her early years, and nothing is known of her training. Her older brother, Charles Wautier (1609 – 1703) was also an artist, and it is plausible that her career was made possible by his success. In 1643 they resided together in Brussels – the year of her earliest dated work. Although Charles was some nine years older than Michaelina, it is important to note that nonetheless his dated works are considerably later, between 1652 – 1668. Prof. Van der Stighelen has noted that Michaelina's style shows little evidence of the influence of the contemporary masters of the ‘Flemish Baroque', but more poignantly displays a French influence, specifically of Simon Vouet (1590 – 1649) and Philippe de Champaigne (1602 – 1674). She also notes the possible influence of Michael Sweerts (1618 – 1664), her direct contemporary. In 1646 Sweerts was in Italy, but is recorded as having earlier established an ‘accademie van die teeckeninge naer het leven' (life drawing academy) in Brussels. Michaelina certainly produced male nudes from life, while her portraits, cloaked in diffuse light and sitters clothed in garments hung in broad folds, are comparable to those of Sweerts.