REF No. 6187
Chinese export porcelain blue and white stoupe or holy water container
Qianlong period circa 1740
Height: 9 inches; 22.5 cm
A very rare Chinese export porcelain blue and white holy water stoupe or font, inscribed IHS to the back plate with a cross above and three nails underneath, decorated with peony and other flowers in underglaze blue.
Such fonts or stoupes are intended to hold small quantities of holy water, usually with a sponge, for people to dip their fingers in before making the sign of the cross. They were often placed at the entrances to churches or holy sites. The form is known in defltware, faience and metalwork but is rare in Chinese export porcelain. Dias 1996, suggests that the presence of the lid means this was probably for private use rather than in a church.
The letters IHS, with crucifix above it and the three nails that pierced Christ’s body below, form a symbol used by the Society of Jesus, an order of Roman Catholic priests founded by St Ignatius of Loyola in 1534. IHS are the first three letters of Jesus when translitered into Latin from the original Greek (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ = IHSOUS). With the nails the letter V is also formed and IHSV stands for hte latin motto: In Hoc Signo Vinces (In this sign, you shall conquer).
References: Sargent 2012, p310, a similar example in the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem MA (AE85322.ab) purchased from Cohen & Cohen in 1996 and reference to a second example in the museum (E82867) purchased from Cohen & Pearce in 1990; Antunes 2000, p91, a pair of slightly different shape, decorated in famille rose flowers; Dias 1996, p52-3, discussion of such pieces; a fragment of a back plate, now in the Bangkok National Museum, Thailand, was excavated in 1984 from San Petro, a Dominican church destroyed by the Burmese in 1767, at Ayutthaya, a former Portuguese settlement.