500 AD to 800 AD
5.1″ (13.0cm) high
The elongated vertical chalice with concave waist, incised on the outer surface with a band of three oval medallions, each encircling a seated figure holding either a chalice, or a long stick or what seems like a writing pen. Their faces and the garments only outlined, their seated cross legs position indicated by a distinctive eight-shaped design. Lying between them, small circular medallions with a squared cross, a register of key-frets above and below, a small band of dotted circles almost at the base above a band of concave arches, the joint terminating with pending individual tear-shaped leaves.
The presence of the cross, as well as the unusual rendition of the yogic posture, the halos that ornament each head would seem to point to a latent Christian iconography. At the same time, the Central Asian flavour of the frontal depiction of the human figures, together with the row of dotted circles would point further to the east, and possibly to Transoxiana. It was here that Nestorian Christians thrived from the 6th century onwards.
The Nestorian or Assyrian Church, also known as the “church of the east”, was ostracised by the Roman church after the council of Ephesus in 431. Allegedly founded by the apostles Thomas and Addai, it became widespread not only in Syria, Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and Persia. After the council of Chalkedon in 451, the sect further distanced itself from the orthodoxy by following the teachings of Nestorius who believed in the unity of the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ, a dogma that was later manifested as the two hypostatic natures of the Christ (two natures, two persons). The bishop of the Eastern Church acted as head of all eastern Christians and promoted the voyages of missionaries to India and Central Asia.
From the 7th to the 11th centuries Nestorianism was the most widespread Christian sect in the East. Nestorian parishes are known from historical records and archaeological evidence to have existed not only in Persia but to have scattered tremendously throughout Central Asia, following the Silk route. Centres were located in Transoxiana and Turkestan at Bakhara, Kashgar, Khotan, Merv, Samarkand, spreading as far as Chinese Central Asian sites such as Kucha, Urumqi, Turfan (in Gaochang) and Hami.
Visual evidence of their expansion comes from various memorial steles, such as the one in the Semiryechye at Frunze, Kirghizistan (datable 8th- 13th c. CE, and bearing an almost identical cross depiction) but most prominently from the famous bilingual stele in Chinese and Syrian (Ugaritian) in the prefecture of Xi’an, erected in 781 and rediscovered in 1625. The inscription narrates the existence of Nestorian (Chinese: Niesituoli parishes in China since the beginning of the 7th century. Nestorian monks lived in a “Persian” Yiningfang Monastery in Xi’an, and the first missionary was a Persian called “Aluoben” (Alopen).
After the expulsion of foreign missionaries in the 840s, the Yuan Dynasty period of religious tolerance against foreigners enabled a second wave of Nestorian missionaries (hence called erkehun, Chinese: yelikewen) to work in China. Since the 15th century Nestorianism lost its influence in China and vanished around 1550. Today the number of Nestorian Christians in the whole world is about 150,000, and the church is divided into different branches.Interestingly enough, the Syrian script used by the Nestorians provided the base for the creation of both the Mongolian and the Manchu alphabets.
This beautifully preserved chalice provides one of the few existing historical evidence of the presence of Nestorian Christians in Central Asia and its decoration vibrantly proves the incredible conflation of Central Asian and Christian symbols into one unique extraordinary ritual vessel. – (LO.587)Login to view price