Coromandel screen | Depictions of Christian iconography

Coromandel, on the southeastern coast of India, was the preferred place of origin for these pieces, manufactured mainly for the European market

By Museu do Oriente

Screen ScreenMuseu do Oriente


China. 17th-18th centuries.
Wood, coloured lacquer and oil painting on canvas

Portable wooden frames of ornamental nature, screens were used to separate spaces, protect from drafts and serve religious rituals. Featuring different formats and materials, Coromandel screens became known for their large size and techniques used.

As per the Coromandel lacquer technique (or Batan, the port from which they were shipped) the screens were painted over a base of plaster, clay or pig's blood mixed with brick powder (or ash) and unrefined lacquer. Made for an avid market for exotic and expensive products, the screens catered effectively to an ever-increasing demand.

Screen Screen - leaf 1Museu do Oriente

From left to right, we see depicted "scenes from the life of Jesus Christ and scenes following the Resurrection":

"Our Lady, still young, with her parents, Saint Anne and Saint Joachim."  

Screen Screen - leaf 2Museu do Oriente

 "Saint John the Baptist (...) with his staff and sheep skin, standing beside his parents, Saint Isabel and Saint Zechariah."

Screen Screen - leaf 3Museu do Oriente

"Three musicians (...) as per the Holy Scriptures, according to which the saints announce the Birth of Christ."

Screen Screen - leaf 4Museu do Oriente

"(…) Our Lady on horseback, carrying the infant Jesus in her arms, and Saint Joseph, fleeing to Egypt."

Screen Screen - leaf 5Museu do Oriente

"Christ risen with the friends of Emmaus, the first people to see him after Our Lady and Mary Magdalene."

Screen Screen - leaf 6Museu do Oriente

"Christ risen with Saint Peter and other Apostles by the Sea of ​​Galilee, when Jesus called Saint Peter to his side."

Screen Screen - leaf 7Museu do Oriente

"Saint Matthew the Evangelist, who is identified by the document in front of him, since he was considered a writer."

Screen Screen - leaf 8Museu do Oriente

"Saint Martin offering half of his cape to a beggar, who is in fact Jesus Christ."

Screen Screen - top 4Museu do Oriente

The top part of the screen features several baskets of flowers and objects associated with the theme of one hundred antiques, 

Screen Screen - top 6Museu do Oriente

namely censers, bi disks (symbol of heaven) and the scepter of ruyi (associated with good luck).

Screen Screen - top 8Museu do Oriente

Screen ScreenMuseu do Oriente

Screen Screen - bottom 1Museu do Oriente

The lower part shows several mythological animals, 

Screen Screen - bottom 2Museu do Oriente

archaic dragons with wavy tails and the “cloud and thunderstorm pattern” (leiwen), symbol of life and longevity.

Screen Screen - bottom 3Museu do Oriente

Screen Screen - bottom 4Museu do Oriente

Screen Screen - bottom 5Museu do Oriente

Screen Screen - bottom 6Museu do Oriente

Screen Screen - bottom 8Museu do Oriente

Screen ScreenMuseu do Oriente

The almost naïve drawing and hybrid compositions in which clearly Western models are combined with Asian details indicate that the anonymous artist was of Asian origin. 

Stylistically, there are clear affinities with Christian iconographic works by Chinese and Japanese artists trained in the Western painting seminary established in Japan in the late 16th century and which, as from the early 17th century, was continued in Macao.

Did you know that the first screens in Europe were Japanese and that they were introduced by the Portuguese, which adapted the term “biombo” from the word byobu for “screen”?

Credits: Story

© Fundação Oriente - Museu do Oriente

CURVELO, Alexandra, “Biombo de Coromandel”, In, Presença Portuguesa na Ásia. Testemunhos, Memórias, Coleccionismo, 2008, pp. 235-236 

Jorge Welsh Works of Art, “Biombo de Oito Folhas” In, Cenas Europeias na Arte Chinesa, 2005, pp. 186-191

LEMOS, Patrícia, "Ícones | Biombo / Pingfeng", In, Revista Macau: Delta Edições, Outubro, 2015

Photography: Hugo Maertens, BNP Paribas

Credits: All media
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