HKUEMS :: Event Details

[GUIDED VISIT 導賞] Nestorian Crosses of the Yuan Dynasty 元代景教銅牌展
posted by University Museum and Art Gallery for HKU and Public
Event Type: Exhibition
Event Nature: Culture and Arts

Event Details

Nestorian bronze crosses were cast in the Ordos region in north-west China (Inner Mongolia) during the Yuan dynasty (1272–1368). They measure between 3 and 8 cm in height, are flat plaque-like ornaments with an outline in high relief and have a loop on the back suggesting that they were used as personal seals and were worn on the body (figure 1). The loop facilitates a strapping to human clothing or girdles. The fine motifs of the cast Christian and Buddhist symbols and the rare survival of red-coloured ink deposits in intermittent lower parts of the design, suggest that these seals were used as chops and transferred their individual designs by printing them on other matters. Although all crosses are cast, a process employed for the repeated production of an exact same size and design, the Nestorian crosses all seem to be unique and are, in fact, characteristic for their individual designs.

Stylistically, all crosses fall into 4 different categories, many with mixed Christian and Buddhist motifs in the same artefact. The majority are executed in crucifix form—hence the group description as ‘crosses’—with either flat or round ends. Other ‘crosses’ in fact take the shape of animals, predominantly birds, but also hares and fish, as well as geometrical patterns, such as sun-like designs and miscellaneous Chinese seal-like forms.

Early cruciform shapes appeared in Quanzhou in Fujian province as part of the stylistic repertoire in Manichaeism that, like Nestorianism, preached Western Christian believes, also in the Ordos region, and declined after the 14th century. The bronze plaques are predominantly Maltese crosses with four equally long arms extending from a centre square or circle. Other important examples are Syrian crosses in which the arms are connected with curved or straight bars. One often found detail in Nestorian crosses is the swastika—both left- and right-turning—a symbol found in Buddhism since the first century AD. The swastika is regularly represented as the central part of the cross that thereby becomes hybrid in character and specific to the Nestorians. In many of the cruciform shapes bands connect the four extremities or petals of the cross. These seem to symbolize radiating sunbeams and, if so, make reference to the Chinese name or its literary translation, of Nestorianism as Jing Jiao, or ‘luminous religion’.

Other ‘crosses’ recall the shapes of birds—single or double—as one bird with two heads or as a pair of intertwined birds. Both the double-headed design and the double birds repeat the strict symmetry of the cruciform shapes as well as echoing the geometry known in Persian art. Therefore, this stylistic feature may also be a possible cultural influence introduced to China by Silk Road travellers and known to the Ordos Nestorians.

The University of Hong Kong’s collection of Nestorian crosses was assembled by a Mr. F. A. Nixon who served as a British postal commissioner in Beijing in the 1930s and 1940s. Subsequently the collection was acquired by the Lee Hysan Foundation and donated to Hong Kong University in 1961. Today’s extensive re-display is generously sponsored by the HKU Museum Society.

元代(一二七二至一三六八年)景教銅十字鑄於中國西北部內蒙古鄂爾多斯地區,約三至八厘米高,為平牌高浮雕飾件。其背帶鈕,方便繫於衣服或腰帶上,有可能作私人印鑒使用(圖1)。精美的基督教與佛教圖案及其下零星殘留的紅墨,證明這些獨特的私人紋飾曾被押印於別處。雖然所有的銅十字皆經澆鑄而成,即一種重覆相同尺寸、設計所做的產品,但這些景教十字銅牌卻是匠心獨具,紋飾均各具特色。

銅十字可從風格上分為四類,其中多件同時混用基督教與佛教圖案。絕大部分因呈平頭或圓頭的十字架形,而被貫稱“十字”;至於其他“十字”則採用動物圖形,以鳥形為最,還有兔形、魚形;另有部分則為幾何圖形,諸如太陽形和各種中式印章的形狀。

在福建泉州,曾發現同樣宣揚西方基督信仰且類似景教的摩尼教經典中,有早期十字架形狀,這種形狀同樣見於鄂爾多斯地區;卻在十四世紀之後逐漸隱匿。這些青銅牌飾主要是一種中心或方或圓,且四臂等長的馬爾他十字。其他重要的還有一種以直條或彎條連接兩臂的敘利亞十字。萬字符從公元一世紀起作為佛教符號,景教銅牌細部亦常見此符號,包括左旋與右旋“卐”字。許多十字銅牌的中心常見有萬字符,此乃混合基督教與佛教的風格,亦為景教的特點之一。十字四臂始於同一中心,如陽光放射,以迎合“景教”中文譯名的文義,即“光明的宗教”。

其他類似鳥形的“十字”,有單隻,有成雙,諸如雙頭鳥及相互纏繞的雙鳥,兩者皆採用十字架的嚴格對稱及波斯藝術中經典的幾何呼應。此種風格特點很可能經由絲綢之路的商旅傳入中國,後為鄂爾多斯的景教徒所熟知。

香港大學這批景教銅十字最初由聶克遜先生(二十世紀三十至四十年代間就任北京英國郵政理事)所收集,後由利希慎基金會收藏,並於一九六一年贈予香港大學。是次再展則得益於香港大學博物館學會的慷慨贊助。

Date/Time03/05/2016 13:00-13:30
Venue1/F Fung Ping Shan Building, University Museum and Art Gallery, HKU
LanguageCantonese

Registration Instruction

Registration is open from 02/12/2015 13:00(HKT) to 27/04/2016 13:00(HKT) on a first-come-first-served basis. The registration quota for this event is 25.

* Registration is now closed.

Contact Information

Should you have any enquiries, please feel free to contact Elena Cheung by email at elenac@hku.hk