Asian Art

Dish with Scene of the Baptism of Christ
Chinese, Yongzheng period, ca. 1723–1735
Porcelain with cobalt blue underglaze
diam. 17 3/4 in. (45.1 cm)
Purchased with funds provided by the Bessie Timon Asian Art Acquisition Fund

   This fine white porcelain dish underglazed with cobalt blue was made in China in the early 1700s and bears interesting Christian imagery—a great rarity prior to 1750. In the central scene, Jesus is shown being baptized in the Jordan by Saint John. Above the two figures, a dove representing the Holy Spirit emanates light. A small rectangular cartouche located on the wide rim of the dish bears the inscription “Mat 3.16,” a reference to the Bible passage Matthew 3:16, which states, “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him.”

   The dish reveals a curious intermingling of Eastern and Western conventions. The rim of the dish is decorated with a fruit and foliage motif that was imported into China from Delft workshops in the Netherlands. The primary scene was likely based on an illustrated Bible or religious guide from Europe. Other elements, such as the distinctive rocks and the arrangement of the landscape, are clearly in Chinese style. Such dishes depicting the baptism of Christ would likely have been ordered by Western traders placing commissions for blue and white porcelain produced in Jingdezhen, Southeastern China. Scholars have speculated that these dishes may also have been used by Christian missionaries in China in the eighteenth century. The Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum, among several other major collections, have related early eighteenth-century Chinese porcelain baptism dishes.

   We are grateful to the Bessie Timon Asian Art Acquisition Fund that made this purchase possible.