The Ming Robe that (sort of) Made it to Canada

Daoist Robe, Unknown Artist, China, 17th Century
Silk and Metallic thread
The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Gift of Florance Waterbury, 1943 ; 43.144

One of the underlying reasons for European expansion into the Americas was the pursuit of a westward passage to Asia. China, particularly, held a place of wonder in the minds of Europeans who began to imitate its signature goods in what became termed “Chinoiserie.” Although for Europeans, the East was a trading partner providing goods such as spices, tea, and ceramic china, some of the goods that flowed out from the east were harder to come by and therefore less a commodity to be traded than an artifact or a curio that, inevitably, inspired European imitation.

One such item that inspired Chinoiserie were the silk robes worn by courtiers in the Ming dynasty court. In their original context they were a symbol that communicated a social status. The Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci, had to repeatedly petition his superior, Father Valignano, head of the Jesuit mission in Asia, for the ability to wear such robes so as to gain access to the imperial Chinese court.  The robe he wore was likely similar to the one pictured. Ricci picked the robes of a Daoist to communicate his role as a priest, albeit of an entirely different faith.

Although the French sericulture industry was created by Chinese silk work that had made it to Europe prior to the late 16th century, it was the Jesuit missions of 1582 that began shipping Ming Court robes to Europe that reinforced the French practice of imitating Chinese cloth. British travel writer, John Evelyn, came across Ming robes shipped by Jesuits as they stopped over in London on their way to Paris. In his diary from 1641-1697, he described robes having “splendor and vividness we have nothing in Europe that approaches it.” 

The french imitation cloth came to be known as ‘Damas de la Chine’ and was frequently worn among French nobles to demonstrate wealth and status. An important moment frequently used by historians to demonstrate the importance of China on the Global stage in the early to mid 17th century is that of Jean Nicollet. He was supposed to have met with the native tribes of Wisconsin  wielding pistols and wearing a Chinese robe. Historians recount this story to suggest that Nicollet likely thought he was to have set foot in China and was dressed to appear in Ming court.

This story likely arose due to a series of mistranslations. What Nicollet probably wore was not a ‘robe’ but a cape of ‘Damas de la Chine.’ This fit his ambassadorial role as the first French ambassador to make contact with this tribe. Nicollet was dressed in the formal attire of a French gentleman of his time.

Ming robes still serve to demonstrate the currency that China had in European minds. Nicollet wore a cape made out of a French imitation of a Chinese cloth as he was in a pursuit of a westward passage to China achievable by ship. In a sense he doubly demonstrated the importance of China to Europeans. Chinese exports like the Ming robes inspired European industry in chinoiserie as well as fueling the European desire to push westward through the new world.

Sources:

Brook, T. The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China. ACLS Humanities E-Book. University of California Press, 1999. https://books.google.com/books?id=YuMcHWWbXqMC.

Brook, Timothy. “Vermeer’s Hat.” In Vermeer’s Hat, 49–51. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008.

Evelyn, John. “Diary of John Evelyn.” In The Diary of John Evelyn, 1:372–74. Washington and London: Walter Dunne, n.d.

Fontana, Michela. Matteo Ricci : A Jesuit in the Ming Court. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011. https://login.avoserv2.library.fordham.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=361535&site=eds-live.

Jacobson, D. Chinoiserie. Phaidon Press, 1999. https://books.google.com/books?id=Km7FQgAACAAJ.

Jung, P.J. The Misunderstood Mission of Jean Nicolet: Uncovering the Story of the 1634 Journey. Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=ntpyDwAAQBAJ.

Patrick Jung, and Nancy Oestreich Lurie. “The Chinese Robe and Other Myths.” Voyageur :Historical Review of Brown County and

Jews, Coffeehouses, and the Enlightenment

Joseph Highmore, London, c.a. 1725 or after 1750
Oil on panel
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Coffeehouses are intimately intertwined with the spirit of the Enlightenment. Coffeehouses like the one depicted here by Joseph Highmore were places of intellectual debate and helped facilitate the transmission of new ideas and modes of thought. The central figure in this painting is clearly in the midst of an impassioned debate. He and his peers wear dignified clothing while the boy on the right seems to be serving them coffee.

 

Although the Enlightenment was a time of revolutionary thinking and new ideas concerning the inherent dignity of all human beings, not all groups of people in Enlightenment-era Europe enjoyed immediate or lasting benefits as a result of these new modes of thought. European Jews constitute an example of one such group, and their plight can be analyzed through the lens of the quintessential Enlightenment institution: the coffeehouse.

 

Yes, even in these dens of high-minded discourse long-standing biases against Jews prevented them from enjoying the full effect of Enlightenment thinking. There are numerous reports of Jews being barred from entering Christian coffeehouses. This also extended to the coffee trade with the denial of Jewish access to trade markets. Jews were promised increased economic freedoms in this era, but these freedoms oft went unactualized.

 

This period is understood to be a time of increased religious freedoms, but it is fair to ask the question: were the lead figures of the Enlightenment genuine in their support for tolerance? Voltaire might be the most prominent figure of them all, but one need not look far to see that he was no fan of the Jewish people. He frequently spoke of his disdain for the Jews, yet he was a staunch supporter of religious freedoms. Voltaire was far from the only Enlightenment figure to hold these seemingly contrary views. Thus, this constitutes the central paradox of the Enlightenment. Yes, the thinkers of the Age of Reason have greatly influenced political institutions and our modern conception of morality, but many of them held views about minority groups, particularly the Jews, that today we find repulsive.

 

Coffeehouses provided a certain few with the ability to discuss lofty ideas, but it is important to consider who is left out when viewing an Enlightenment-era painting such as this one. At the far left of the painting, one coffeehouse patron is grabbing the neck of a visibly distressed woman while the others pay no mind and continue on with their discussion. Here Highmore unwittingly encapsulated the failures of the Enlightenment. In this era, rich white men discussed and wrote about important and worthwhile topics, but marginalized groups did not stand to benefit nearly as much as those rich white men. In many cases, as is the case with this painting, the men were the very ones who were subordinating these groups.

 

Sources:

 

“Figures in a Tavern or Coffee House – Joseph Highmore – Google Arts & Culture.” Google Cultural Institute. Accessed December 10, 2018. https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/figures-in-a-tavern-or-coffee-house/JQG0Ko6r2Seg6w.

 

Lausten, Martin Schwarz. “TOLERANCE AND ENLIGHTENMENT IN DENMARK: The Theologian Christian Bastholm (1740-1819) and His Attitude Toward Judaism.” Nordisk Judaistik 19, no. 1–2 (1998): 123–39.

 

Levy, Richard S., and Albert S. Lindemann. Antisemitism : A History. New York, NY: OUP Oxford, 2010. https://login.avoserv2.library.fordham.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=694173&site=eds-live.

 

Liberles, Robert. Jews Welcome Coffee : Tradition and Innovation in Early Modern Germany. The Tauber Institute Series for the Study of European Jewry. Waltham, Mass: Brandeis, 2012. https://login.avoserv2.library.fordham.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=447952&site=eds-live.

 

Voltaire, and Simon Harvey. Treatise on Tolerance. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2000., 2000.

Black Drink and Native American Alcohol Use

Theodor de Bry, Belgium, 1590
Copperplate engraving
Getty Research Institute

Jacques Le Moyne was a French artist and cartographer who in 1564 traveled to an ultimately unsuccessful French colony in modern-day Florida. Much of his fifteen-month stay in Florida was spent with the native Timucuans. He spent this time creating depictions of the Timucuans and making maps of the area (near present-day Jacksonville). Unfortunately, in 1565 during a Spanish siege on the French fort, Fort Caroline, Le Moyne lost the majority of his work. After sailing back to France and eventually settling in England as a Huguenot refugee, Le Moyne recreated many of his drawings from memory. Shortly after his death in 1588, his drawings were acquired and reproduced as engravings by Theodor de Bry.

 

De Bry’s engravings are questioned for their veracity due to their dubious connection to Le Moyne’s original drawings, but, despite their likely embellishment, they cannot be understood as complete fabrications of Timucuan culture. This particular engraving depicts a Timucuan chief preparing his soldiers for battle by preparing black drink. Black drink is a name used for various ritual drinks used by Native Americans. It usually contained a relatively large amount of caffeine or a small amount of alcohol by today’s standards.

 

There exists a strong cultural association between Native Americans and a biological predisposition to alcohol abuse, but modern studies are challenging that conception. Instead, scholars are looking at other factors that may have contributed to an increased rate of alcohol consumption among Native Americans in comparison to non-Native Americans. One of the factors that may explain this discrepancy is the prominence of these black drink rituals.

 

In pre-Columbian America, alcohol use was strictly ritualistic. Also, as we have stated previously, the alcohol content of black drink and other alcoholic beverages in pre-Columbian America was much lower than that of the alcohol brought over by Europeans. When stronger European alcohol became available in relative abundance Native peoples had no infrastructure in place for its regulation. Native Americans’ higher incidence of binge drinking may be linked to the historical use of alcohol as a ritualistic spiritual aid. This is just one of the many possible explanations for the high prevalence of Native American alcoholism. Some scholars even suggest that alcohol use evolved into a method of protest for Native Americans.

 

The stereotype of the drunken Indian is a prominent and harmful one for Native Americans. It paints Native Americans as immoral pleasure seekers who would rather escape from reality than adjust to the ever-changing modern world. Yes, alcohol use played a part in the decline of the Native American, but its overuse by Native Americans can be explained by a variety of cultural factors, including the nature of Native American use of black drink and other psychoactive substances. 

 

Sources:

 

Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne, and Dina Gilio-Whitaker. “All the Real Indians Died off” : And 20 Other Myths about Native Americans. Boston : Beacon Press, [2016], 2016.

 

French, Laurence Armand. “Psychoactive Agents and Native American Spirituality: Past and Present.” Contemporary Justice Review 11, no. 2 (June 2008): 155–63. https://doi.org/10.1080/10282580802058270.

 

“Le Moyne de Morgues, Jacques (1533-1588), Artist and Cartographer | American National Biography.” Accessed December 9, 2018. http://www.anb.org/view/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.001.0001/anb-9780198606697-e-1701106.

 

“Theodor de Bry | Admiranda Narratio Fida Tamen, de Commodis et Incolarvm Ritibvs Virginiae : Nvper Admodvm Ab Anglis. . . (1590) | Artsy.” Accessed December 10, 2018. https://www.artsy.net/artwork/theodor-de-bry-admiranda-narratio-fida-tamen-de-commodis-et-incolarvm-ritibvs-virginiae-nvper-admodvm-ab-anglis.

Inoculation and Marginalization: How Smallpox Was Eradicated in Western Europe

“The cow-pock – or – the wonderful effects of the new inoculation”

1802

London, England

James Gillray (1756-1815)

colored engraving, published by H. Humphrey

Library of Congress Continue reading Inoculation and Marginalization: How Smallpox Was Eradicated in Western Europe

Unveiling the Enlightenment

Peter Paul Rubens. 1610-15. Four figures in Oriental dress, a Moorish warrior, two members of the Greek clergy, a lady with a facial veil. drawing. Place: British Museum, http://www.britishmuseum.org/. https://library.artstor.org/asset/AGERNSHEIMIG_10313163248.
Sketch of Four Figures in Oriental Dress

Depicted here is a sketch from 1610-1615 of four figures in oriental dress made in Belgium by the Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens. The figure on the farthest right is the figure of interest, as it is the artist’s rendition of a woman wearing an Islamic veil. The significance of this image and this figure in particular is its representation of the detached and misinformed orientalist view which Europeans held of Eastern cultures in the 16thand 17thcenturies. The veil in the drawing does not remotely reflect the actual appearance of veils as staple articles of female apparel in the Ottoman empire that were observed and analyzed by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Lady Montagu was a female letter writer in the 17thand 18thcenturies who traveled in Turkey and came to be known as an Enlightenment thinker because of her revolutionary descriptions of foreign culture. Montagu covered subjects such as the veil, introducing new perspectives on objects and ideas that were traditionally looked down upon until that point.

Before Montagu, Europeans generally considered the veil as a perfect symbol of female oppression, an interpretation which, although less common, is still prevalent today. Although the veil as a centerpiece of Islamic culture is clearly an imperfect and controversial item, Lady Montagu began to consider its redeeming qualities for the first time. She went so far as to describe it as a feminist symbol that made Turkish women the only free people in the empire. In her eyes, this freedom stemmed from the anonymity that came with wearing a veil, a power which allowed women to escape their gender role in society and engage in less tolerated activities. One of these activities in which Montagu appeared to have a particular interest was adultery, something which the veil would allow Turkish women to participate in without fear of repercussion. This opened the door to a new interpretation of other elements of sexuality, contributing to one of the major changes of the Enlightenment period which was a review of what was sexually appropriate.

Montagu’s descriptions of the veil also granted it importance as a purely cultural symbol and contributed to the Enlightenment movement away from the orientalist perception of the East. The mere existence of a positive defense and counterargument in favor of the veil introduced a new form of thought to Europe, placing an emphasis on tolerance and appreciation rather than disrespect and aggression when it came to foreign cultures. The first step towards acceptance of foreign culture provided a strong contrast to the approaches of earlier explorers such as Christopher Columbus who immediately resorted to reform and enslavement when encountered with a new culture. The effort to understand the cultures of the “Orient” through items such as the veil eventually evolved into the view of tolerance and validation which we hold today.

 

Bibliography

Behiery, Valerie. “A Short History of the (Muslim) Veil.” Implicit Religion16, no. 4 (2014). Accessed November 11, 2018. doi:10.1558/imre.v16i4.387.

Grenda, C. S. “Thinking Historically about Diversity: Religion, the Enlightenment, and the Construction of Civic Culture in Early America.” Journal of Church and State 48, no. 3 (2006): 567-600. Accessed November 28, 2018. doi:10.1093/jcs/48.3.567.

Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley. “The Complete Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.” The Complete Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu,Vol. 1: 1708-1720, 1965, All Pages. doi:10.1093/oseo/instance.00053479.

Murray, James C., Oliver Dunn, and James E. Kelley. “The Diario of Christopher Columbus’ First Voyage to America, 1492-1493.” Hispania74, no. 1 (1991): 72. doi:10.2307/344539.

Peter Paul Rubens. 1610-15. Four figures in Oriental dress, a Moorish warrior, two members of the Greek clergy, a lady with a facial veil. drawing. Place: British Museum, http://www.britishmuseum.org/.

Taylor, Barbara. “Feminism and the Enlightenment 1650-1850.” History Workshop Journal 47, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 261-72. Accessed November 28, 2018. doi:10.1093/hwj/1999.47.261.

 

 

Music and Theology: Martin Luther’s “Deutsche Messe”

Line-cut Facsimile of Deutsche Messe  

Martin Luther, Wittenburg, Germany. 1526.

Woodcut print book.

Luther, Martin and Michael Lotter. Deutsche Messe vnd ordnung Gottis diensts. Wittenburg: 1526.

“Martin Luther – Deutsche Messe 1526.” Martin Luther (1482-1546). Cedarville University Digital Commons. Accessed December 6, 2018. https://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/sing_martin_luther/1/.

This book is a facsimile of Deutsche Messe, a mass written by Martin Luther in 1526. Though the Reformation brought about the purging of art from worship, Martin Luther was a proponent of just the opposite: he believed that the art of music furthered the act of devotion. Luther specifically believed in the concept of musical ethos, which claimed that music had an ethical effect on the mind and body. According to his theory, good music, which led people to God with its emotional response, ignited the passion necessary to worship God. In composing the music of his Deutsche Messe, Luther hoped he would lead people to God and his theological doctrine of sola scriptura, sola fides, and sola gratia.

What sets Luther’s mass apart from other traditional masses is its use of German. By using the vernacular language, Luther believed that he could better communicate his theological principles to a German audience. Luther supported the theory that German people best understood God’s word in German hymns. In the Deutsche Messe, he matched the natural versification of the German text to explicitly German melodies. In doing so, Luther believed that his hymns made God’s word more intelligible to a German audience.

It is true that Luther did retain some elements of the traditional mass, namely the standard Latin hymns. Luther wanted the German people to be well-versed in Latin among other languages. He advocated for the German population to learn and understand Scripture in as many languages as possible, believing that it would allow them to spread the word of God to people wherever they went. 

The Latin hymns which Luther chose to retain were strategically chosen so as to not reduce the intelligibility of the mass for the general German public. These hymns drew on well-known Catholic plainchants. Because the Latin text and melodies of these hymns had been standard in the traditional masses, most of the German people who engaged with Luther’s mass were already familiar with the Latin portions.

It is also important to note the increased accessibility of the Deutsche Messe in comparison to traditional Latin masses. The mass was spread widely among the young German population because it was incorporated into German schooling; students and teachers alike attended the mass and were familiarized with both the German and Latin hymns. The printing of the book, as demonstrated by the facsimile, also played a part in its accessibility. After the birth of the printing press, literacy rates in Germany increased dramatically. As a result, the book was easily accessible to the majority of the German population.

Another aspect of the mass which Luther found marketable was its novelty. Being that no prior mass had been written in the vernacular language, Luther hoped that the originality of the Deutsche Messe would attract non-Lutherans to his music and his theology. Whether or not Luther was successful in this pursuit is debatable. What Luther did accomplish, though, was the creation of a new type of mass which used vernacular language and music of the people to appeal to a specific audience.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Matthew R. “The Three Reformation solas and twenty-first century ethical issues.” Consensus 30 (2005). https://scholars.wlu.ca/consensus/vol30/iss1/5.

Cameron, Euan, ed. “The Power of the Word: Renaissance and Reformation.” in Early Modern Europe: An Oxford History, 63-101. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Foroughi, Louisa. “Spiritual Reformation.” HPRH 2003, Fordham University, Bronx, September 14, 2018.

Grew, Eva Mary. “Martin Luther and Music.” Music & Letters 19, no. 1 (1938): 67-78. http://www.jstor.org/stable/727986.

Lippman, Edward A. “The Sources and Development of the Ethical View of Music in Ancient Greece.” The Musical Quarterly 49, no. 2 (1963): 188-209. http://www.jstor.org/stable/740645.

Janz, Denis R., ed. A Reformation Reader. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Luther, Martin. Documents Illustrative of the Continental Reformation: The German Mass and Order of Divine Service, edited by B.J. Kidd. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911.

Sternfeld, Frederick W. “Music in the Schools of the Reformation.” Musica Disciplina 2, no. 1/2 (1948): 99-122. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20531762.

 

Peyote and Diabolism in New Spain

Huichol Figure of Elder Brother

Unknown artist, Mexico. c. Late 1800s.

Clay and pigment.

Central American Ethnographic Collection, American Museum of Natural History.

Figure. Place: American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York. Donor: Lumholtz, Carl, Dr.. https://library-artstor-org.avoserv2.library.fordham.edu/asset/AMNHIG_10313875871.

PROVENANCE: Figure collected by Dr. Carl Lumholtz during a trip to northern Mexico in the 1890s, sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History. Acquired by the American Museum of Natural History in 1894 from donor Dr. Carl Lumholtz.

Psychedelic plants are not often associated with religion. Indigenous peoples of the Americas, however, have utilized the hallucinogenic cactus peyote in religious ceremonies for centuries. This figure depicts Elder Brother, known as the god of peyote to the Huichol Indians of Mexico. Though this figure was created in the late 1800s, the use of peyote in indigenous religious practices is believed to have begun as early as 4220 BCE. In the seventeenth-century, peyote practices were interrupted with the arrival of the Spanish in what would be known as New Spain. While peyote practices of most native peoples came under attack by Spanish colonists, the Huichol people escaped Spanish rule by fleeing to nearby mountains. This figure is an important symbol of the indigenous religious beliefs which the colonists feared and attempted to suppress. 

Spanish colonists attributed the psychological effects of peyote to the work of the Devil. Peyote contains mescaline, a compound resembling LSD that places users in a state of altered reality and induces visual hallucinations. While the indigenous peoples believed that these effects were instances of contact with religious figures, the Spanish believed that these visions were about the Devil or came directly from him. Colonists also viewed peyote as a vehicle for idolatry. They concluded that the plant was either treated as a god or as an instrument through which the native peoples worshiped the Devil. Furthermore, the Spanish feared that the indigenous peoples could harness the Devil’s power, which they encountered in their use of peyote, to perform witchcraft in retaliation against colonial rule.

The colonial fear of peyote was heightened with the realization that the cactus could also affect the Spanish people. Not only had Spanish colonists begun to use peyote, but a fusion of Christianity with peyote rituals had also resulted in new syncretic practices. Although Spanish colonists and indigenous peoples alike claimed that they used peyote to see Christian figures, the combination of Christianity with presumed diabolical influence was seen as heresy by leaders of the Inquisition.

The Inquisition’s distaste for the native peoples’ religious use of peyote culminated in the 1620 peyote ban. However, this would not be the last time that a decree regarding peyote use was issued. Throughout the early twentieth century, Christian missionaries still fought to eradicate any remaining peyote use in the United States. In response, Native Americans formed the Native American Church to protect their right to use peyote in religious ceremonies. Peyote was once again banned when declared a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. It wasn’t until 1993 when Native Americans were granted the right to use peyote for religious purposes. Part of what is so notable about the history of peyote is how its perception by Spanish colonists still impacts its sociopolitical status in modern American society.

Works Cited:

Alarcón, Ruiz de, Hernando J. Richard Andrews, and Ross Hassig. Treatise on the Heathen Superstitions that Today Live Among the Indians Native to this New Spain, 1629. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984, 43.

Cervantes, Fernando. The Devil in the New World: The Impact of Diabolism in New Spain. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Curatorial Notes on Figure. Mexican & Central American Ethnographic Collection. American Museum of Natural History. New York, New York. Accessed on December 8, 2018. https://anthro.amnh.org/anthropology/databases/common/public_access.cfm?object_list=65%20%20%2F%20%20619.

Dawson, Alexander. “Peyote in the Colonial Imagination.” In Peyote: History, Tradition, Politics, and Conservation, edited by Beatriz Caiuby Labate and Clancy Cavnar, 43-62. Santa Barbara: Praeger/ABC-CLIO, 2016. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/299782100_Peyote_History_Tradition_Politics_and_Conservation.

Halpern, John H., Andrea R. Sherwood, James I. Hudson, Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, and Harrison G. Pope. “Psychological and Cognitive Effects of Long-Term Peyote Use Among Native Americans.” Biological Psychiatry, Vol. 58 (2005): 624-631. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2005.06.038.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia. “Peyote: The Divine Messenger.” Season 2, Episode 2. Produced by Hamilton Morris and Bernardo Loyola. Viceland. December 2017.

Lewis, Laura A. Hall of Mirrors: Power, Witchcraft, and Caste in Colonial Mexico. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

MacLean, Hope. “The “Deified” Heart: Huichol Indian Soul-Concepts and Shamanic Art.” Anthropologica 42, no. 1 (2000): 75-90. doi:10.2307/25605959.

“Outlawing of Peyote by the Spanish Inquisition.” In “Peyote and the Mexican Inquisition, 1620.” By Leonard, Irving A. American Anthropologist, New Series, 44, no. 2 (1942): 324-26. http://www.jstor.org/stable/663041.

Smythies, J. R. “The Mescaline Phenomena.” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 3, no. 12 (1953): 339-47. http://www.jstor.org/stable/685448.

Cacao’s Connection to Christianity and Its Roots as Currency

El Señor del Cacao (Christ of Cacao).
Unknown maker, Mexico City, c. 16th century.
Painted stone.
The Cathedral of Mexico City.

This statue features Jesus Christ holding a small cacao branch with gold leaves, from which it derives its name: Christ of Cacao. The statue, located in Mexico City’s cathedral, draws devotees from across the nation, many of whom leave offerings of chocolate at the base of the pedestal, as shown in the image. While this might seem like an odd donation to leave at Christ’s feet, chocolate has a long history of religious connotation in Central America.

Amerindians in Central America in the 15th century prized cacao as a currency because of the delicacy it produced—chocolate—and for its religious significance. They utilized it as currency because of its convenience: the beans were abundant enough that people had ready access to them, yet rare enough that they could act as a standard, much like gold does today. Up until the arrival of the Spanish, the Amerindians treated the cacao like money. The tribes who had more cacao trees on their land had greater weight with the other tribes because they had more money. When the Spanish arrived, the Europeans immediately strove to seize the cacao production and thus control the market.

The cacao’s product, chocolate, however, truly gave the bean special significance. The upper classes drank the hot drink at political banquets and during religious rituals; its presence was required during the signing of treaties. The Amerindians demanded chocolate’s appearance at these important events because they believed it had mystical powers.

The Popol Vuh is a Mayan epic that prominently features cacao. It tells the story of the maize god—the main Mayan god, whose crop provided their daily sustenance—whose skin is often depicted as being embedded with cacao pods. His journey requires him to spend time in the underworld, and when he emerges to the light once again, he comes through a grove of cacao trees, which often grew by the entrances to caves. For the Amerindians, then, the cacao was an important symbol of rebirth.

The Spanish, upon, their arrival, instantly recognized the similarities in the maize god’s journey and that of Christ, and manipulated those similarities to help spread Christianity and more easily control the local populace. They integrated the maize god’s story into Christ’s, forever connecting the two alongside the idea of cacao’s relationship with rebirth. This integration of religions came with numerous advantages for the Spanish. Specifically, it meant that when Amerindians left cacao offerings at the feet of statues of Jesus and saints, the priests could collect those offerings, amass them, and grow wealthy. Conquest for the Spanish came more easily when they could buy the people rather than fight them.

Thus Christ and cacao are forever intertwined in Central American history, and the statue of Christ holding cacao still draws offerings of chocolate today.

Sources:

Image: Unknown. c. 16th century. “El Señor del Cacao.” Mexico City, Cathedral of Mexico City. “Weaponizing Cacao.” Chocolate Class: Multimedia Essays on Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. (20 February 2015). Accessed 6 Dec. 2018. https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/weaponizing-cacao/

Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel. “The Good and Evil of Chocolate in Colonial Mexico” In Chocolate in Mesoamerica : A Cultural History of Cacao, edited by Cameron L. McNeil, 273-88. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006. https://login.avoserv2.library.fordham.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=380221&site=eds-live.

Aliphat, Mario and Laura Caso Barrera. “The Itza Maya Control over Cacao” In Chocolate in Mesoamerica : A Cultural History of Cacao, edited by Cameron L. McNeil, 289-306. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006. https://login.avoserv2.library.fordham.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=380221&site=eds-live.

Earle, Rebecca. The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race and the Colonial Experience in Spanish America, 1492-1700. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Martin, Simon. “Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion” In Chocolate in Mesoamerica : A Cultural History of Cacao, edited by Cameron L. McNeil, 273-88. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006. https://login.avoserv2.library.fordham.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=380221&site=eds-live.

Chocolate: The International Sensation

Joseph-Théodore Van Cauqenbergh, Paris, France 1774
Silver, aramanth wood
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.
Van Cauqenbergh, Joseph-Théodore. Chocolate Pot. 1774. Silver, aramanth wood. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland. 1948. https://art.thewalters.org/detail/5934/chocolate-pot/.

Provenance: John Alfonse Walter, Aux Cayes, Haiti, prior to 1793, [mode of acquisition unknown] [1827 inventory]; Susan Rodgers (wife of John Alfonse Walter), Baltimore [date of acquisition unknown], by inheritance; Laura Walter, Baltimore [date of acquisition unkown], by inheritance; Ethel R. Gray, Baltimore, 1911, by inheritance; Walters Art Museum, 1948, by purchase.

Cacao is a bean crop grown on trees and the fundamental basis for chocolate production. Europeans arriving in the New World found indigenous people to be consuming chocolate most commonly in the form of a drink with froth, and when the newcomers began to explore its additional uses, they created foodstuffs and even medication. The natives created chocolate by roasting and skinning the cacao beans, then crushing and grinding them to produce a more malleable substance, often adding other natural substances such as vanilla or honey for an improved taste.

Cacao played a vital cultural role in the lifestyle of native Americans, such as the Mayans and Aztecs. Archaeological research revealed engravings in ceremonial clay bowls of deities associated with the crop, and chocolate’s linguistic origin actually traces back to a phrase about the food of the god’s.

The European settlers saw much more commercial than religious potential in cacao, and word and taste of chocolate quickly spread across the continents. Thousands of pounds of the it were shipped to Europe, where the English eventually combined it with milk, liquor, and other ingredients. The manufacturing process involved the cleaning, roasting, cracking, and fanning of cacao beans, followed by their grinding and mixture with the prepared accompanying ingredients; the work required was quite manual and similar to that done by the native Americans with whom they found it. In Europe, this work was assisted by early manufacturing machinery, such as heated cauldrons, surfaces, mortars, and surfaces.

In the late 17th century, France’s consumption of chocolate, particularly by royalty, was common knowledge. The Siamese queen sent gifts of two silver chocolatiérs and five chocolate-pots, one of which was entirely gold, to Louis XIV. These grandiose presents served as models for equipment that soon became used all over Europe and even in British American colonies. The image above shows a later design of the instrument gifted to Louis XIV, the silver chocolatiére.

The transport and spread of chocolate resulted in its eventual development into a social symbol. In European countries such as Spain and Italy, it was consumed largely by those of upper and religious class. It was used in artwork as an indicator of social elevation, particularly in situations where it was being served by a foreign servant, which historical perspective can attribute to the crop’s close connection with imperialism.

Chocolate’s presence further generated something of a social stereotype surrounding women. This was rooted in its consumption by nuns and the European priests’ condemnation of it because of the financial expense; however, chocolate later became a symbol of female malignance in general. Its association with witchcraft became a widespread idea; it was said to be used in love potions, with other key ingredients such as menstrual blood. This social link was solidified on a higher, more legal level by Inquisition allegations of the creation of such potions.

Sources:

Bonnart, Robert. Un cavalier et une dame buvant du chocolat. 1718. Engraved maunuscript. BnF, Department of Manuscripts, CLAIRAMBAULT 503, National Library of France. Accessed October 9, 2018. http://classes.bnf.fr/essentiels/grand/ess_1558.htm.

Coe, Sophie D. et al. The True History of Chocolate. United Kingdom: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Earle, Rebecca. The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race, and the Colonial Experiences in Spanish America, 1492-1700. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.