In this essay I will be discussing the rise and fall of Namban Art during the Christian century in the history of Japanese Art. I will concentrate on three essential elements in order to discuss this topic. Firstly, what is Namban art exactly? Secondly, I will briefly look at the history of the Christian century. Finally, I will relate the rise and fall of Namban Art to the rise and fall of Christianity during this period. What is Namban Art. The word namban itself translates as “Southern Barbarians”. The term relates to the type of art which was produced as a reaction to the arrival of foreigners on Japanese soil.Order now
In the discussion of Namban art I have broken it down into two categories. Firstly, there is the type of art which corresponds directly to the Christian faith being promoted at this time. In this case, there were reproductions of European paintings and decorative objects such as altars for example. The other category of Namban art would be secular observations and consist of folding screens depicting the coming and goings of the foreigners for example. However, one cannot discuss Namban art properly without understanding the history of the time. This is because at the time art and society were intrinsically linked.
The Christian century can be roughly dated from 1543 – 1639. In 1563 the first Portuguese ship landed on Japanese soil in Kyushu. With the Portuguese came a more sinister threat in the eyes of many Japanese – Christianity. The Jesuit Francis Xavier arrived in Japan in 1549 and his arrival can be seen as the true start of the Christian century. It has been said that although his stay in Japan only lasted two years, the results of his missionary work were to be felt in the country for almost a hundred years. ‘ Christianity became popular in Japan quickly .
By the time of the reunification of Japan under Oda Nobunaga towards the end of the sixteenth century, Christianity had already found many supporters. With the steady rise in number of converts to Christianity the demand for religious artwork increased also. The demand became so great that Europe could not supply enough and consequently workshops were established in Japan to create religious works. Christianity continued to grow thanks to the support of Nobunaga’s successor Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi knew the benefits of trading with the Portuguese and he also realized that trade and the Jesuits were linked.
For this reason Hideyoshi tolerated Christianity even though he had issued a decree prohibiting Christianity. It was the following Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who enforced this. The threat of the Christian religion had simply become too great. Progressively more restrictions were being placed on Christianity and trade. In a reversal of Hideyoshi’s values, it was decided that the threat of Christianity overrode trade. So the Portuguese, with whom they did the most business, were effectively banished from Japan.
In 1639 all trading with the Portuguese and other nations was ceased with one exception – the Dutch. As the Dutch had never made any attempts to promote Christianity they were allowed to remain in the port of Nagasaki. Thus began the period of Japan’s almost total isolation from the rest of the world. There is an undeniable correspondence between the rise and fall of Christianity and the rise and fall of Namban art. As has been stated before, I have broken down Namban art into two categories: one influenced by Christianity and the other which was secular observations of the time. Lets consider the Christian influence on Namban art.
I have already mentioned that demand for religious works from Europe became so great that it was necessary to set up workshops in Japan. It is known that Japanese artists were copying European paintings as early as 1565. ‘ It wasn’t until 1583 that Giovanni Nicolao, an Italian artist and priest, came to Japan to teach western art techniques to the Japan seminarians. The works produced by native artists working in a western style were somewhat varied. On the one hand, they produced conventional religious works such as paintings and even altars as can be seen in Fig 1.
In this image we can see a number of lacquered Namban objects including an altarpiece. The symbol IHS can be seen on the lid of the container. These objects are clearly for use in Christian ceremonies. On the other hand, Japanese artists created secular works inspires by other works they may have seen in Western books or from prints brought over from Europe. An excellent example of this is from a folding screen depicting The Battle of Lepanto (Fig 2). The premise for this work comes from an engraving by Cornelius Cort after a painting by Giulio
Romano called The Battle of Scipio Against Hannibal at Zama. This clearly shows the influence of western art on Japan. There is nothing of the Japanese style of art to be seen in this work. It could be confused with a European work however oftentimes with these types of works the artists lack the proper training of Western techniques: ”the ambiguous and incorrect light sources in their works show they were unaware of the principles of chiaroscuro. ‘ This type of art lacked any originality. Another example of this would be a four-panel screen entitled Foreign Princes on Horseback’ (Fig 3).
Again, it is difficult to pick out anything typically Japanese within this painting, except maybe the fact that it is a folding screen. The European princes are depicted in a stereotyped way with pointed noses and chins and in ceremonial dress. However, the type of art which really typifies the Namban art fits into my second category. Nanban by bu-e are folding screens which combine a Japanese style of painting with Western subjects. These works typically feature observations of the coming and goings of the foreigners, especially the Portuguese. They were by and large created by the Kano school of art.
This school of art consisted of the most renowned painters of the Momoyama period. ‘ This school worked in the yamato-e style and there were specific machi-eshi within the school and these artists created the namban screens. It is widely regarded that there are three distinct types of namban screens. Firstly there is the type whereby on the left-hand screen we see a foreign (most likely Portuguese) ship berthing in a Japanese harbour. On the right-hand screen a group of Europeans led by the captain advance to the Namban-ji. An excellent example of this can be seen in Fig. 4.
If we look at the first six-fold screen we can see the Portuguese nao landing in the Japanese harbour and heading for a church in the right-hand corner. The second screen depicts the procession of these foreigners to a church and we can see the details of these characters quite clearly. The Japanese oftentimes portrayed these foreigners as caricatures. They were represented with hooked noses, bearded faces, wearing pantaloons and often they carried umbrellas as they were seen to be exotic. It is also interesting to note a detail in this picture as it illustrates how the Japanese in and around Nagasaki immersed themselves in namban culture.
In the right of the screen there are samurai and they are wearing the Portuguese bombacha. This shows ? ”the taste for European styles that was to spread out from Nagasaki’ One of the important things to note about this first type of Nanban by bu-e is that the setting for both screens is the same. They both are set on Japanese soil. The second type of Nanban by bu-e consists of the ship in the Japanese harbour, seen on the right-hand screen. Also in the screen would be the procession up to the namban-ji. The left-hand screen would then depict the ship depating from a different, foreign port.
So, unlike the first type, here we have two separate locations illustrated. Fig 5 illustrates this well. In the first screen we can see the arrival of the Portuguese. The ship in this example is more realistically rendered than the previous one which had a sense of flatness and rigidity. The ship in Fig 5 is much more rounded and realistic, giving it the impression of buoyancy. The procession makes it way up to the church and again we can see all the usual characteristics attributed to the foreigners in these Nanban by bu-e. The hooked noses, beards, pantaloons and umbrellas are all present.
It is worth re-iterating the fact that Japanese artists made these screens. Therefore, one can see the typical features of Japanese art such as the use of gold clouds and the presence of pine trees as witnessed in this screen. In the next screen of this pair, the scene shows the departure of a ship from a foreign port. Here the artist would have had to use his imagination as knowledge of foreign lands was quite limited. It is possible that the foreign lands depicted in these screens are depictions of Goa. Finally, let us look at the third kind of Nanban by bu-e.
Here, the right-hand screens remains the same as that of the second kind. The format is still the foreign ship in the Japanese harbour with the march to the namban-ji. However, the left-hand screen is different. While it remains a portrayal of foreigners on oversea, exotic lands there is no illustration of a harbour or a ship. If we take a closer look at these screens this becomes clearer (Fig 6). The right-hand screen again conforms to the typical representation of the Portuguese arriving in Japan. The Jesuits can be seen welcoming the captain of the ship much like in the previous two Nanban by bu-e.
To the right of this screen characteristic features of the Kano school can be seen. These include the use of clouds to establish the various pictorial planes within the painting. The left-hand screen is a departure from the norm. Like the second type of Nanban by bu-e the scene is set on foreign ground. Again this requires the use of imagination on the part of the artist to depict a foreign land. It is clear that the artist had little knowledge of life oversees. An example of this would be the depiction of the game canas which, in reality, looks nothing like how it is depicted.