nanban byoubu 南蛮屏風
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
Folding screens *byoubu 屏風, usually in a pair, depicting Portuguese and Spanish visitors to Japan in the late 16c and early 17c. A type of genre painting of the Momoyama period *kinsei shoki fuuzokuga 近世初期風俗画, nanban byoubu typically portrayed European ships and trading merchants in a port on the left screen and a group of foreigners heading toward the nanbanji 南蛮寺, or Christian church (erected in Japan in the mid-16c), on the right screen. It is thought that the inspiration for nanban byoubu came from the port of Nagasaki 長崎, where artists were able to learn European customs and manners from personal observation and sometimes, although it was officially forbidden, interaction with foreigners. The paintings were executed in traditional style, emphasizing detailed representations of individuals, buildings and utensils, and the careful arrangement of these elements over a broad area of the screen, often using many gold clouds. There is no trace of influence in style or in technique from Western painting. Nanban byoubu were popular and thus many copies were made of which about 60 extant examples are known. Affluent merchant patrons ordered copies of the early compositions but sometimes artists would use their imagination in lieu of actual first-hand subject material. A painter could alter the details as he wished. Although the works were usually unsigned, it is believed that artists of the Kanou school *Kanouha 狩野派 produced many of the best works. They were soon joined by painters of the Tosa school *Tosaha 土佐派 and *machi-eshi 町絵師, who continued to produce nanban byoubu until around 1650. The closing of the country around 1635 and persecution of Christianity by the Tokugawa 徳川 shogunate brought the popularity of namban art to an end. Later nanban byoubu lacked both spontaneity and vitality.

*nanban-e 南蛮絵 

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