Jingdezhen, 1520-1540. Porcelain; diameter 20 ⅜ inches. Museum purchase.
The "IHS" monogram on this large dish makes it one of the earliest Chinese porcelains to reflect European influence. While IHS surrounded by a crown of thorns is generally accepted by scholars to indicate the Jesuit order, here the motif is intended neither as a Jesuit symbol nor as a crown of thorns. The crown of thorns is almost always depicted as two branches entwined, whereas here the monogram, one of several variations used since the third century to stand for Jesus Christ, is surrounded by an olive or laurel wreath, easily recognizable by the ribbon at the bottom and the tied ends at the top.
Evidence suggests that orders for porcelains showing the IHS and wreath motif may have been placed by Portuguese Christians as early as the 1520s. For example, certain Chinese porcelain bowls from this period exhibit the IHS monogram interspersed among depictions of an armillary sphere, an emblem first used by Manuel I of Portugal. If the bowls bearing the arms of Manuel I were ordered for him, they-and this charger-would necessarily predate 1521, the year of his death.
The Society of Jesus, founded in 1534, was recognized officially by Pope Paul III in 1540, at which time the society adopted the IHS monogram, typically surrounded by rays of light. It was not used in conjunction with the crown of thorns until the nineteenth century. In any case, the dating of this dish to between about 1520 and 1540, disproves its once-suspected association with the Jesuit order.