Photograph: José Pessoa

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On display in the Exhibition(s)
Travelling and Exoticism | Pilgrimage and the religious missions

Name of Object:
Namban Folding screen
Also known as: Namban byobu
Date of Object:
Kano Naizen  (1570, Unknown-1616)
Type of object:
Decorative arts / genre painting
Holding Museum:
National Museum of Ancient Art
Lisbon, Portugal
Period of activity:
Late 16th century
Museum Inventory Number:
MNAA 1640 Mov, 1641 Mov
Material(s) / Technique(s):
Wooden frame covered with paper, gold leaf, tempera, silk and lacquered; metal
Place of production:
H: 178 cm; l: 366 cm width: 2 cm
Workshop / Movement:
Kano School
Acquisition 1954
The byobu was used in Japan to create a more intimate space in large areas or to frame or define a ritual space. Generally made in pairs, byobu offer a splendid surface for decoration. In 1543 the Portuguese namban (meaning “foreigners”) arrived in Japan; the impact of their encounter would last almost a century. As a visual record the screens stand out.
The arrival of the Portuguese black ship (kurofune), with its exotic cargo, people, treasures and novelties, was depicted in masterly detail by the Kano school painters, as shown by screens marked with the seal of the painter, Kano Naizen.
The screen follows a specific model: in the first panel is the big ship that left Portugal carrying goods from Goa, Malacca and Macau. Here it is preparing to leave Goa – the capital of the Portuguese settlement in India – a suggestion underlined by the foreign architecture and two elephants. The busy port is expressed in great detail and bright colours. Golden clouds separate the different moments of the composition. The theme continues in the second screen, where it is probable that we are shown the arrival of the boat in the port of Nagasaki. The artist had enhanced the excellence of the ship's crew by painting acrobats performing in the masts.
Ashore, a group surveys the unloading of the precious cargo (exotic animals included).The core business would have been the trading of Chinese silk for Japanese silver; sold in China for fabulous profits. Nearby is a heterogeneous procession led by the ship's captain under an umbrella and including rich Portuguese gentleman and merchants, Arabians, Indians, Africans and Malays. Significantly the artist depicts their clothes in detail. On the right, missionaries wait in front of a church; it is important to note that the Jesuit missionaries organised the Portuguese presence in Japan as their religious work was based at the cultural level. These screens document an encounter which for the first time connected two different and distant cultures.
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Current Owner:
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga
How date and origin were established:
The object has the artist’s seal
How Object was obtained:
How provenance was established:
By Tadao Takamizawa and Oyshitomo Okamoto in Namban Byobu, 1970. See below
Selected bibliography:
Boxer, C. R., The great ship from Amacon, Lisbon, 1959.
Takamizawa, T., Okamoto, O., Namban Byobu, Tokyo, 1970.
Pinto, M. H. Mendes, Biombos Namban, Lisbon, 1988.
Sousa, C. Borges de, Portugiesen in Japan-Die Namban Kunst, Die Grossen sammlungen VIII, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon, Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik, Germany, 1999.
Biombo: Japanese Heritage as a Legend of Gold, Suntory Museum of Art/Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, 2007.
Additional Copyright Information:
Copyright images: Divisão de Documentação Fotográfica/ Instituto dos Museus e da Conservação,I.P.
Citation of this web page:
Conceição  Borges de Sousa "Namban Folding screen" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2016.;BAR;pt;Mus11_A;48;en
Prepared by: Conceição Borges de Sousa
Translation by: Conceição Borges de Sousa
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: PT 51