Nestorian Crosses of the Yuan Dynasty
University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong
90 Bonham Road, Pokfulam,
Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Jun 10, 2016 To Dec 31, 2022
Detail: The University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) Nestorian crosses were 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.
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. 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, suggested that these seals were used as chops and transferred their individual designs by printing them on other matters. Although all crosses are cast, 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.