Namban Screens

The arrival of the Portuguese in Japan

By MNAA National Museum of Ancient Art

The arrival of the Portuguese in Japan in 1543 gave rise to commercial and cultural exchanges that were recorded in these screens: the curiosity and festive atmosphere aroused by the arrival of the black ship of the namban jin (the barbarians from the south, as the Portuguese were called) in the port of Nagasaki.

The Japanese painter, Kano Naizen, portrays, among golden clouds, the departure of the Portuguese black ship from a port that may be Goa, India, where much of the cargo shipped to Japan was loaded.

A different architecture and the two imposing elephants suggest this.

In the hustle and bustle of the port, at the time of the departure of the ship, we can see laymen and religious waving goodbye...

...while other persons entertain themselves in animated horse races.

To the great black ship, represented with detail and already with all the sails in position...

...arrives the last passenger.

Now the painter represents the arrival of the black ship to Japan:

the landing...

...the parade...

...and the diverse products and exotic animals brought by the Portuguese.

The painter emphasizes, exaggeratedly, the skills of the sailors on the masts doing acrobatics, certainly amazed by their expertise.

The details and color of the various costumes of the namban jin (as they called the Portuguese) were represented in detail, identifying the various functions and categories of each.

In the distance, a Japanese man prays in a Catholic chapel, surmounted by a cross, next to one of the several Jesuit schools, thus revealing also the importance of this missionary order in teaching.

These screens are, without a doubt, an important historical and artistic documents about the relationship between Portugal and Japan.

Namban folding screens (17th century) by Seal of Kano NaizenMNAA National Museum of Ancient Art

Credits: Story

Texts: MNAA/Conceição Borges de Sousa

Credits: All media
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