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Bailey, Art on the Jesuit Missions in Asia and Latin America, 1542-1773. (Reviews).

Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Art on the Jesuit Missions in Asia and Latin America 1542-1773.

Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. xii + 100 pls. + 310 pp. $65. ISBN: 0-8020-4688-6.

In Italy and elsewhere in early modern Europe, most Catholics learned and practiced their beliefs in lay corporations that were also responsible for many kinds of social assistance. Occasionally, confraternities developed into religious orders, as was the case with the Company of Jesus, recognized as an order in 1540, only five years before the Council of Trent convened. The Order's emphasis on preaching and teaching evolved in response to Tridentine concerns to educate mass audiences. The Jesuits effectively utilized images of all kinds in their mission to educate Catholics.

Art on the Jesuit Missions offers the first overview of these activities outside Europe, with individual chapters on the missions to Japan, China, Mughal India, and Paraguay. One of the most fascinating aspects of this history concerns the role of printed books and engraved illustrations -- with their obvious advantages of portability and reproducibility. Within a few years of its initial Italian publication in 1548, Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises was available throughout Europe, in Asia, and the Americas, along with architectural treatises by Alberti and Serlio, and engravings after Michelangelo and Rubens, among others.

Studying the global dissemination of European ideas through the Jesuit Order avoids the erroneous analogy between "nation" and "culture" that still anchors so much of the research art historians undertake. Jesuits Missions begins in 1549 with the arrival of Francis Xavier in Japan to establish the driving force of the mission in the tradition of lay confraternities (Chapter 3). Jesuit Alessandro Valignano soon recognized the need for an art academy capable of bridging the profound gap he astutely perceived between Japanese and European aesthetic values. Gregory XIII (1572-85), nicknamed "Pope of the Missions" for his support of the Jesuit cause in Asia, founded the Seminary of Painters in 1583 -- only five years after the same Pope founded the Accademia di San Luca in Rome.

The Seminary for Painters is the largest art academy in Asia. Its director was the Neapolitan Brother Giovinni Niccolo, a professionally trained artist whose primarily Japanese Jesuit pupils disseminated Christian art in Japan, China, the Phillippines, possibly even Peru, as well as influencing the mainstream of Japanese painting in the second half of the seventeenth century. Japanese Christian paintings show what Bailey calls "an even synthesis between the two cultural traditions" in the most successful exemplars (75).

A different situation developed in China (Chapter 4), where Chinese literati rejected European styles of representation in spite of Matteo Rcci, who directed the China mission and dazzled everyone with his knowledge and his etiquette. Bailey argues that Ricci had limited success in converting the Chinese elite, partly because Chinese painting is concerned with metaphysical realities rather than the imitation of appearances that Ricci valued most highly.

Christian art suffered from co-option rather than rejection in Mughal India (Chapter 5), where, astonishingly, Muslim leaders had adorned their palace walls with paintings of Christ, the Virgin, and Christian saints in a late Renaissance style before the Jesuits arrived in the 1590s. Although the contributing factors were complex and their success with the lower classes much greater, in the long run, neither talented Jesuit intellectuals nor their clever gifts were able to change Mughal perceptions of Christian religious art as exotic curiosities and ideological instruments capable of serving their own, very different purposes.

In the Paraguay rainforests (Chapter 6), beginning in 1609, the Order built cathedral-sized churches housing hundreds of gilded and carved altarpieces produced by indigenous workshops. The formerly semi-nomadic Guarani had no figural arts tradition: rather, they used geometric patterns to reveal nature's essence, adopting Christian forms with anti-Christian intent. Their frontal, iconic, expressionless statues may appear merely decorative to European viewers but, according to Bailey, they were "highly symbolic of personal identity and kinship" within a native context (178).

A large part of this book is devoted to formal descriptions of artistically hybrid objects, whose purported significance is all too often based on assertion. The history of the Jesuit missions is told as "a partnership or dialogue between peoples, and artistic expression made possible by the fusion of their traditions" (181), yet the Jesuits eventually became the object of criticism in every Catholic state: expelled from Portugal and its colonies in 1759, suppressed in France in 1764, recalled from all Spanish dominions in 1767, Clement IV dissolved the Order in 1773. Art on the Jesuit Missions is a goldmine that also leaves many questions unarticulated: about the historical role of images at intersection of competing institutional forms of power, current disciplinary paradigms, and individual agency, including the author's own relationship to Jesuit history. This book provides a significant basis for further historical investigations of cultural domination, resistance, accommodation, and other subtler forms of acculturation and coexistence in greater critical depth.
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Author:Farago, Claire
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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