Portugal, Jesuits, Japan: Spiritual Beliefs and Earthly Goods

  • 16 Feb 2013
  • McMullen Museum, Boston College
Portugal, Jesuits, and Japan
Spiritual Beliefs and Earthly Goods




Opening February 16
McMullen Museum
Boston College

On exhibit through June 2, 2013

The exhibition examines cultural exchanges from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries through the movement of goods on Portuguese ships. Portuguese freighters traveled from Portugal to Japan in a four-year round-trip that included extended stopovers in India and China. Central to this narrative of trade and cultural exchange are seven magnificent folding screens depicting Japanese encounters with the so-called "nanban-jin" ("southern barbarians"), who were mainly Portuguese sailors and Jesuit missionaries. Examples of the many types of objects depicted on the screens are also on display, including elaborately decorated Japanese furniture, lacquerware, and military equipment; Indian and Chinese ceramics, textiles, and furniture; and paintings by Jesuit-trained Japanese artists. Along with rare European and Japanese maps, the artifacts and screens tell a fuller story than that documented in contemporary texts and letters. Portugal, Jesuits, and Japan highlights a period of internationalism that gave way to insularity following the expulsion of the Portuguese from Japan in 1639. The viewer travels through the complex landscape of religious ideas, customs, and artistic styles that typified the nanban period as an age of exploration when merchants and missionaries alike, both European and Japanese, saw spiritual beliefs and earthly goods as inextricably bound.

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