Recently, the auction house Christie’s auctioned at a record price tag of $450,312,500 what they called “The Last da Vinci.” The theme of the painting is the Salvator Mundi, a motif used since the 15th century depicting Christ with his right hand raised in blessing and his left over a sphere known as globus cruciger, and ancient symbol of Christian secular power.
In Japan, as well, the motif was painted at least in two occasions. The mostly well-known Japanese Salvator Mundi was authored by Sacam Iacobus, which the Project on the Engraved Sources of Spanish Colonial Art has suggested to be Jacobo Niwa. On Niwa, Boxer writes:
“The works of Jacobo Niwa (son of a Japanese mother and Chinese father) were particularly admired at Peking, where he stayed for some time as assistant to Matteo Ricci. [Francesco] Pasio (…) pays a warm tribute to the great progress made by the pupils of the seminary in copying the paintings and engravings which had been brought from Rome by the Kyushu envoys who returned with Valignano in 1590.”
If the PESSCA website is correct, then Jacobo Niwa produced a copy based on Flemish engraver Hieronymus Wierix’s own Salvator Mundi. Niwa’s Salvator Mundi is now in the archives of the University of Tokyo, Japan.
But beyond Niwa’s, there is a very interesting Salvator Mundi drawn in a codex kept in the Vatican. Numbered Reg. Lat. 459, it is a manuscript written by Jesuit Fr. Manuel Barreto in 1591. The document also contains the Passion of the Christ and other theatrical plays written for Japanese Christians. In one of the first few pages of the codex, it has a hand-drawn Salvator Mundi which we reproduce below.
Although it is difficult to determine whether Barreto himself was responsible for drawing this Christ or if he asked a more talented person to do so for him, it is indeed interesting to see that this version differs slightly from Niwa’s Salvator Mundi. Probably, the most prominent difference is the head. While in Niwa’s drawing Christ is turned to the right side, Barreto’s Salvator Mundi’s head is tilted differently. Nevertheless, both globus crucigers are very similar. Furthermore, as Barreto’s codex is dated 1591, there is a chance he copied Wierix’s engraving before Niwa produced his own Salvator Mundi.
Were Niwa and Barreto’s Christs based on the same Flemish engraving or they derive from different sources? Undoubtedly, Jesuits in Japan had an array of options at their hands when choosing models for locally-produced works of Christian art. It does not mean that because Japan Jesuits were isolated they had to base similar motifs on the same pictures. It is a task for future studies to determine other sources for Christian works of art produced in Japan.