In this year, our special exhibition during Advent and Christmas season presents representations of Mary with the Child from East Asia - China, Japan and Korea. Since nativity scenes were unknown in the early days of Christianity in these countries, worship concentrated on Madonna figures, which had strong similarities to local traditions.


Small showcase

Winged wooden altar (China)

Woodcarving in half relief with a middle part and two movable wings. The Virgin May is standing in a house; its columns are decorated with Bible verses relating to the birth of Jesus.

Left side: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light (Isaia 9,1)
Right side: On those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (Matthew 4, 16)

Painting on mulberry paper – Mary with Child in a pine forest (Japan)

The Mother of God, wrapped in a shawl with chrysanthemum pattern (a symbol for long life) carries her equally well wrapped and protected child through a snowy pine forest. On the left side of the painting, a blooming hibiscus bush; in Japan, this flower is a symbol for gentleness.

Painting on mulberry paper - "Our Lady in the skies" (Japan)

Mary, in a traditional Japanese costume with a pattern of open fans (ōgi), a symbol for future development opportunities, holds her child. On the left side of the painting very small houses of a village and a temple can be seen from a bird’s-eye view. Together with the blue background and the indicated light on the top right the painting gives the impression of the Virgin Mary standing in the skies.

Two statues of Mary with Child (Japan)

Hollow figurines made of unglazed respectively partly glazed ceramics in traditional Japanese costume (kimono) with a sash belt and a bow (obi) on the back. One figurine of Saint Mary is depicted in the traditional Japanese sitting posture.


Big showcase

Portrait of Mary with Child (Korea)

The motif of May with the Child sleeping on her shoulder is painted on the leaf of a tree.

Standing statue of Mary with the Child (Korea)

Porcelain figure in typical Korean costume (hanbok) with Child. The Virgin Mary has a brass gloriole; her hair is tied in the neck in a traditional fashion and is held by a big brass hairpin (binyeo) with a red glass bead as an adornment.

These hairpins for women exist in Korea since the time of the "Three Kingdoms" (1st c. BC to 7th c. AD). On special occasions, women either braided their long hair or tied it to a bun in the neck where it was secured by the hairpin. Missionary Benedictine sisters at Daegu (South Korea) crafted the figurine.

Painting on paper – kneeling Mary and Child (Korea)

Maria wears a traditional Korean costume with the short jacket held together by a bow and the long bouffant skirt. She kneels on a mat with a tassel and holds the Child in her arms. The silk painting shows the colors white and blue. White is in Korea among other meanings the color of purity, blue stood in ancient Korea for hope and immortality.

Mary and infant Jesus (Korea)

On water colored paper, Jesus is depicted as a young boy. Next to him kneels his mother who has apparently just finished dressing him, a domestic, familiar scene.

May with Child, silk painting (Korea)

Blooms of the hibiscus (mugunghwa) entwine the standing figure, which is Korea’s national flower symbolizing immortality. Infant Jesus wears traditional boy’s clothes you can see in the museum’s permanent exhibition: trousers, overcoat with rainbow colored sleeves, vest and a boy’s headdress.


Porcelain figure of Guānyīn (China)

The origin of the Guānyīn is rooted in Indian Buddhism in the figure of Avalokiteshvara, a male "enlightened being" who renounces his personal ultimate salvation in order to administer to all suffering beings.

Trough Korea, Indian Buddhism came to China. From the 9th/10th century onwards, the figure of Avalokiteshvara merged with local female Chinese deities and was more and more presented as a woman and as the incarnation of compassion; often she was pictured accompanied by two children.

When Portuguese Jesuits came to China in the 16th century, Chinese artists noted the similarity of the Madonna statues with the representation of the Guānyīn and started to create figurines of the Virgin Mary after this model. In this way, Mary was inculturated into Chinese traditions.

In Japan, the Guānyīn is called Kannon. In 1549, Jesuits brought Christianity to Japan, but only 40 years later, it was suppressed again. Expulsion of the missionaries and a complete ban on Christianity followed in 1639, a period that lasted for the next 200 years.

Christians who wanted to survive had to disguise their religious worship. Especially in the West and Northwest of Japan, the figure of Kannon was used instead of European statues of the Virgin Mary. In addition to the porcelain figures imported from China, statues were crafted from wood or ceramics that show cross shapes in hidden places, e.g. in the coronet or in a pendant. In this way, "underground Christians" (kakure kirishitan) could continue worshipping the Virgin Mary in the outer appearance of Kannon.

The Guānyīn presented in our special exhibition is a typical Chinese representation in white Blanc de Chine porcelain. She stands on a lotus flower, at her feet crouches a dragon (a symbol of fortune) and she holds lotus stems in her left hand (a symbol of purity). On her forehead the "Third Eye" point, a sign of enlightenment that hints, together with the coronet and the hairstyle, to the Indian origin of Avalokiteshvara. The small sized Child sits gracefully on her right arm.