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Chinese School, 1643
Chinese School, 1643

The Dutch missionary Robert Junius baptising the new Christians at Formosa, 1643

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Chinese School, 1643
The Dutch missionary Robert Junius baptising the new Christians at Formosa, 1643
inscribed 'Vertooninge. vande. habijten. Gestalte. ende. vergaderinge. / der. Nieuwe christenen. op. Formosa. Int. Dorp. soulang. / soo. als. Gods. woort. In. Hare Taele. Is. Gepredict. / vanden. E. D. Roberto. Junio. Anno 1643. Door. een. / chinees. Aldaer geschildert.' (in the centre)
oil on canvas
37 ½ x 50 ½in. (95.2 x 128.2cm.)
Sale Room Notice
There is an engraving dating to 1644 by Pieter de Jode II of the present two portraits of Junius, for which see the example in the Rijksmuseum, RP-P-OB-7897 (http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.129704), where the artist is credited in the plate to Adriaen Souter (1628-1670). The two portraits of Junius here, probably the models for the engraved portrait, would then be by Souter, a Dutch hand, while the aboriginal Taiwanese flanking the minister all the work of an anonymous local Chinese artist (the latter as indicated by the Dutch inscription).

The print is titled in the oval border: ‘ROBERTUS JUNIUS: VERBI DIVINI MINISTER INTER GENTES INSULAE FORMOSAE IN INDIA ORIENTALI. Anno CD.DC.XLIV. Aetatis XXXV111’.

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Lot Essay

Robert Junius, born in Rotterdam in 1606, was a prominent missionary of the Dutch Reformed Church in Formosa (present day Taiwan) between the years 1629-43. The Dutch Reformed Church was the largest of the Christian denominations in the Netherlands from the onset of the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th century until the 1930s, and Formosa, from 1624-62, was under the colonial rule of the Dutch East India Company. Junius, who had previously been a minister in Delft, was one of the longest-serving missionaries on the island during this era.

Junius’s principal endeavour there was to introduce and promote Dutch Reformed Christianity to its pagan inhabitants, an enterprise which was significantly advanced in the wake of the Dutch Pacification Campaign of 1635-6. Following a massacre of sixty Dutch people by the Taiwanese aborigines in the district of Mattau (today known as Madou), Junius was involved in a series of successful military and diplomatic actions undertaken by Dutch colonial authorities against the native people, resulting in a Pax Hollandica. Over his years there, Junius established churches in at least twenty-nine towns, baptised nearly six thousand adults as well as numerous children, and translated many prayers and psalms into the Formosan language. He also instituted the island’s first schools, selected and trained around fifty natives to become teachers, and taught many of them to read. He returned to the Netherlands in 1643, and died of the plague in Amsterdam twelve years later.

This magnificent and unusual picture depicts Junius baptising hundreds of natives in mid seventieth-century Formosa and is a very rare and early image illustrating the activities of the West in Asia. Junius, in clerical dress and looking directly at the viewer, appears twice: in the throes of Christian teaching from a pulpit in the upper centre, and in the midst of a baptism ceremony in the lower centre. In this second scene, a kneeling mother proffers her swaddled infant while Junius signals the Christian blessing with his right hand across his chest. A small container of holy water sits atop the nearby chair and another woman holding her child patiently waits her turn. The men and women are designated to separate areas in the church, with many of the latter wearing identical beaded headdresses and necklaces. The sense of the ecclesiastical is heighted in the praying members of the congregation, the church-like stone columns, and the spiritual golden glow emanating from Junius at the pulpit.

Whilst the history of the painting’s origin is unknown, it may be suggested that Junius himself commissioned it in order to commemorate his time in Formosa. His prominent positioning and gaze; coupled with the large numbers of people depicted, which serve to attest to and celebrate his missionary successes; and the date of the painting 1643, which coincides with his last year on the island before returning home, all support this conjecture.

There is an engraving dating to 1644 by Pieter de Jode II of the present two portraits of Junius, for which see the example in the Rijksmuseum, RP-P-OB-7897 (http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.129704), where the artist is credited in the plate to Adriaen Souter (1628-1670). The two portraits of Junius here, probably the models for the engraved portrait, would then be by Souter, a Dutch hand, while the aboriginal Taiwanese flanking the minister all the work of an anonymous local Chinese artist (the latter as indicated by the Dutch inscription).

The print is titled in the oval border: ‘ROBERTUS JUNIUS: VERBI DIVINI MINISTER INTER GENTES INSULAE FORMOSAE IN INDIA ORIENTALI. Anno CD.DC.XLIV. Aetatis XXXV111’.


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