Namban oratory

Small Christian altar resulting from the influence of the "Namban Jin" in Japan

By Museu do Oriente

Namban Oratory Namban OratoryMuseu do Oriente

Namban Oratory

Japan, Momoyama  | Edo period (late 16th | early 17th century). 
Lacquered wood (urushi), gilt lacquer (maki-e), mother of pearl (raden) and gilded copper (fittings). Pigments on wood (painting)

Namban Oratory Namban Oratory (closed)Museu do Oriente

Namban art developed in Japan between the 16th and 17th centuries, as a result from contacts with the "Namban Jin" or "Southern barbarians", that is, primarily the Portuguese.

Namban Oratory Namban OratoryMuseu do Oriente

The piece’s small size allowed for the sacred space to move anywhere in the world, thus facilitating the dissemination of the Christian message. This Oratory is part of a group of pieces that can be affiliated with the Jesuit school of painting in the Western way, established in Japan in the 1580s.

Namban Oratory Namban Oratory (Momoyama/Edo period, late 16th century-early 17th century) by unknown authorMuseu do Oriente

Built in wood with application of lacquer (urushi) and mother of pearl inlays (raden), this Oratory is topped by a slightly convex horizontal panel, inscribed on the lower register as two hinged doors that protect the central image. 

Namban Oratory Namban Oratory (closed)Museu do Oriente

Decorated with golden lacquer (maki-e), the exterior features birds and trees (Japanese camellias and paulownias) framed by a mother-of-pearl band and a simple band with geometric motifs (ishitatami).

Namban Oratory Namban Oratory (Momoyama/Edo period, late 16th century-early 17th century) by unknown authorMuseu do Oriente

Inside, the natural elements are repeated, although the local specimens represented are mandarin (tachibana) and cherry (sakura), framed by bands with mother-of-pearl and golden lacquer.

The artistic and cultural syncretism of this piece is striking. The Oratory’s key element is the central oil on wood painting, with what appears to be St. Joseph holding the Child Jesus in his arms. The lilies symbolize the Virgin Mary.  

Interestingly, Saint Joseph is depicted as having Eastern features, and is haloed by an 8-point star-shaped polygonal nimbus.

Stylistically, the composition can be included both in the Hispanic-Flemish school of painting and in the painting seminary sponsored by the Society of Jesus in Japan.

In the iconography of Saint Joseph, the lily is often present. It represents God's choice for Jesus' father, having become a symbol of purity and, as such, of Mary. 

(Source: Apocryphal Books)

Credits: Story

© Fundação Oriente - Museu do Oriente

CURVELO, Alexandra, “Oratório Namban”, In, Presença Portuguesa na Ásia. Testemunhos, Memórias, Coleccionismo, 2008, pp. 127-128

Photography: Hugo Maertens, BNP Paribas

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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