The Jesuit Nicolas Trigault in Chinese Costume

chalk drawing of man standing in Chinese dress robes, with handwritten text

Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)
The Jesuit Nicolas Trigault in Chinese Costume, 1617
Black, red, and white chalk, yellow (fabricated?) chalk and blue-green fabricated chalk, pen and brown ink, on buff (?) paper
17 1/2 × 9 3/4 in. (44.6 × 24.8 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Purchase, Carl Selden Trust, several members of the Chairman’s Council, Gail and Parker Gilbert, and Lila Acheson Wallace Gifts, 1999

This magnificent drawing represents Nicolas Trigault, a Flemish Jesuit missionary to China. Rubens, who had close ties to the Jesuits in Antwerp, dated the drawing in January 1617, when Trigault visited the city to raise funds and recruit new missionaries. His costume combines a Korean cap and the robe of a Chinese scholar, conveying the Jesuits’ desire to assimilate into Chinese culture while keeping a certain distance from it. Rubens beautifully captured the cut, texture, and weight of the robe and recorded the sensitive features of the priest. Although the drawing was formerly attributed to Van Dyck, its technique, style, and finish point firmly to Rubens, whose handwriting can be recognized in the Latin inscription describing the missionary’s costume at upper right.

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