Subject:SCMP: Vatican’s Chinese Christian artworks go on display at Beijing’s Palace Museum

* Gradual thaw in relations allows works from Holy See’s collection to feature in exhibition inside the Forbidden City

Laurie Chen
Published: 7:44pm, 28 May, 2019

South China Morning Post

The agreement was hailed as groundbreaking because the Vatican has yet to establish official relations with Beijing.

The works include Chinese depictions of Christian stories, such as the Last Supper. Photo:

Chinese artworks owned by the Vatican Museums have gone on display at the Palace Museum inside Beijing’s Forbidden City.

Titled “Beauty Unites Us: Chinese Art from the Vatican Museums”, the exhibition opened on Tuesday and will run until July 14 in the first such cultural collaboration between China and the Holy See.

Among the 78 items on display are a painting of the Last Supper by the early 20th century Chinese artist Ren Yifang as well as a painting of the Madonna from the same period by Wang Suda.

The exhibition also contains Buddhist and secular art.

The Catholic paintings depict scenes from the Bible featuring ethnically Chinese characters wearing traditional clothing in Chinese surroundings.

These exhibition is intended to shed light on the fruitful intercultural exchanges between China and Western Christianity over the previous centuries.

“This is a wonderful encounter between the Palace Museum and the Vatican Museums,” Wang Xudong, the head of the Palace Museum, told

The Vatican Museums hold more than 20,000 pieces of Chinese art ranging from bronzes to ceramics and paintings.

Many were donated by early missionaries or sent as gifts from the Chinese emperors.

The Vatican’s collection numbers about 100,000 pieces of fine art from around the world, and also includes the Sistine Chapel and other world-famous sites.

The Vatican and China first planned to exchange about forty pieces of art each in November 2017 to boost strained ties between the two sides in a show of “art diplomacy”, but the plans have been stalled until now.

Pope Francis has repeatedly sought to improve the Vatican’s relationship with Beijing over the years, but the two sides have clashed over whether the Vatican or Beijing has the authority to appoint Catholic bishops in China.

A landmark agreement reached by both sides in September 2018 decided that Pope Francis would have the ultimate say in the selection of future Chinese bishops, but candidates would be selected from a pool vetted by the Chinese government.

More exchanges have been happening since then, including a visit by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and council secretary Paul Tighe to open the Holy See Pavilion at the Beijing International Horticultural Exhibition in late April.


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