Turning Point: Oribe and the Arts of Sixteenth-Century Japan

October 21, 2003–January 11, 2004

Objects Made by Japanese Artisans for Export to Europe

The second section of the exhibition demonstrates the mid-sixteenth-century impact on all of the arts of Japan's first encounter with Europeans and Christianity. The arrival of Portuguese missionaries and traders aboard carracks in the southern port city of Nagasaki were recorded by Japanese artists on folding screens, ceramics, and lacquerwares, revealing the Japanese fascination with these exotic foreigners, the clothes they wore, and the strange objects delivered by their great sailing ships.

Featured in the exhibition are a rare missal stand and European-style portable cabinet in black lacquer, which combined the newly fashionable mother-of-pearl inlay with the traditional maki-e technique of sprinkled gold powder. These objects were made by Japanese artisans for export to Europe, where such pieces were in great demand and put to sacred as well as secular use. A European-made globe, maps of the world produced both in Europe and in Japan, a Black Oribe tea bowl decorated with the image of a cross in underglaze white, and an Oribe ware candle stand in the shape of a European gentleman, all of which epitomize the Japanese curiosity about European culture, are included in the exhibition. These are among the very few such objects that survived the Japanese government's stringent prohibitions, initiated in 1638, against the practice of the Christian faith and the subsequent self-imposed isolation of the country from the outside world.