The 1726 portrait of Giovanni Battista Messari (1673-1723) by Joseph Stöcklein provides a poignant visual record of a key figure in the Jesuit missions of the 17th and 18th centuries. Published in Augsburg, this engraving is a rare artifact of the Jesuit history and the global reach of their missionary activities.
Giovanni Battista Messari, an Italian by birth from Gorizia, was a member of the Society of Jesus, known for his missionary work in the Kingdom of Tunkin. The inscribed text reveals that Messari began his religious journey as an alumnus of the Convictus Graecensis, a seminary institution, and a secular priest before joining the Jesuit Society. His final years were marked by hardship, as he was burdened with iron chains, reduced to a weakened state due to confinement, and ultimately succumbed to hunger and illness in his prison cell on June 15, 1723.
Stöcklein's portrayal of Messari encapsulates the challenges faced by Jesuit missionaries in their quest to spread Christianity. The Jesuits were known for their commitment to education and cultural exchange, often venturing into remote and politically volatile territories. The Kingdom of Tunkin, present-day Vietnam, was one such territory where Jesuits faced persecution due to the contentious status of Christianity.
The portrait of Giovanni Battista Messari, in its depiction of a Jesuit missionary who suffered and died in service to his faith, underscores the perilous nature of the Jesuit missions during this period. It provides a window into the historical dynamics of religion, cultural interaction, and political tension in the Kingdom of Tunkin, making it an intriguing piece of Jesuit and global history.