AN EXTREMELY IMPORTANT PAINTING BY ADRIAEN SOUTER (1628-1670) AND AN UNKNOWN CHINESE ARTIST
Vertooninge. Vande. habijten. Gestalte. ende. vergaderinge. /der. Nieuwe Christenen op. Formosa. Int. Dorp. Soulang. / soo. als. Gods. woort. In Hare Taale Is Gepredict/ vanden. E.D. Roberto. Junio. Anno 1643. Door een/ chinees. Aldaer geschildert.
(Depiction of the clothing, figures and assembly of the new Christians in Formosa in the village of Soulang, while the Word of God is preached in their language by the minister Robert Junius, anno 1643. Painted there by a Chinese artist).
Annotated in the centre
Oil on canvas, 95.2 x 128.2 cm
In the collection of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam is an engraving dated 1644 by Pieter Jode II, titled in the oval border: ROBERTUS JUNIUS: VERBI DIVINI MINISTER INTER GENTES INSULAE FORMOSAE IN INDIA ORIENTALI. Anno CD.DC.XLIV. Aetatis XXXVIII. (Rijksmuseum: RP-P-OB-7897). In this engraving Adriaen Souter is mentioned as the artist of the portrait after which the engraving was made by Pieter Jode II.
Robert Junius, born in Rotterdam in 1606, was a prominent missionary of the Dutch Reformed Church in Tawain (Formosa) between 1629 and 1644, converting over 6000 Taiwanese Indigenous to Dutch Reformed Christianity. The Dutch Reformed Church was the dominant Church in the Netherlands from the onset of the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th century until the middle of the 20th century, and Formosa, from 1624-1662 was under the colonial rule of the Dutch East Indies 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 was to introduce and promote Dutch Reformed Christianity to the inhabitants of Taiwan, an enterprise which was significantly advanced by Junius mastering their language, settling among them in the village of Sinkan and even himself supporting Sinkandans in expeditions against neighbouring villages. Junius was a “modern” missionary who, apart from spreading the (true) Gospel, believed in bringing about socioeconomic change to the non-western society by introducing western technology and agricultural methods.
In 1629 a group of Chinese smuglers had settled in the small village of Mattau just north of the Dutch fort Zeelandia. The governor Pieter Nuyts decided to send a company of 60 Dutch soldiers to the village to set things right. However the villagers plied the soldiers with liquor and subsequently killed all of them and then raided Sinkan, the village where missionary Candidius, Junius’ predecessor, had settled and baptized the first fifty Sinkandans. If the VOC could not protect them, what was the sense of converting and relying on the Dutch and their God? As long as the massacre of Sinkan had not been revenged the Dutch (and their God) had no authority in the eyes of the Formosan peoples. In 1629 Nuyst was replaced by Hans Putmans who was joined by the 23 years old Junius.
In the conquest of southwest Formosa between 1633 and 1636 the church and the VOC worked closely together. On horseback Junius, under the banner of the “Ever-Victorious” Christian God, commanded allied Formosan troops in a series of successful military and diplomatic actions against Mattau and other villages on the Southwest plain of Formosa., resulting in a Pax Hollandica. Over his years there, Junius established churches in at least twenty-nine villages, baptised about six thousand adults as well as numerous children and translated many prayers and psalms into the Formosan language. He also instituted the first schools in Formosa, selected and trained about fifty natives to become teachers and taught many of them to read.
However, the two main protagonists in pacifying the Taiwanese, Governor Putmans and Dominee Junius, in the end, became themselves appalled by the dreadful effects of the reprisals that they had to mete out against some of the Formosan villages on orders of Batavia. This painting is dated 1643, the year Junius returned to the Netherlands, so presumably Junius himself commissioned the painting in order to commemorate his missionary successes in Formosa.
This magnificent and unusual picture depicts Junius preaching to, and baptising dozens of natives in seventieth-century Formosa. It 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, emanating a spiritual golden glow, in the upper centre, and at the midst of a baptism ceremony in the lower centre. In the baptism scene, a kneeling mother proffers her swaddled infant while Junius signals the Christian blessing. A small container of holy water sits atop the nearby chair and another woman holding her child patiently waits her turn. To the left and right Formosan men in the upper part , and women in the lower part, are seated in separate areas in the church. The women are wearing identical beaded headdresses and necklaces.
To speculate on the creation of this painting; as stated in the Dutch text, it was painted in Formosa by a Chinese artist, then taken to Holland in 1643 by Junius who may not have been completely satisfied with his portrait or more likely had the portrait of himself left blank in the original painting. After his return in Holland he then had his portrait (re)done and the Dutch text added by Adriaen Souter in 1644, the year in which also the engraving by Pieter Jode II was published in which Souter was mentioned as the painter of Junius’ portrait.