McMullen Museum of Art Boston College


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                                                                                    Nancy Netzer, Director
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Portugal, Jesuits, and Japan: Spiritual Beliefs and Earthly Goods
February 16–June 2, 2013

Exclusive, groundbreaking exhibition of rare nanban art examines
16th and 17th century cultural exchanges

CHESTNUT HILL, MA (January 2013) — The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College presents a groundbreaking exhibition of rare nanban art: works influenced by the arrival of the nanban-jin or “southern barbarians”—European missionaries and merchants in Japan—during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Portugal, Jesuits, and Japan: Spiritual Beliefs and Earthly Goods will be on exclusive display from February 16 through June 2, 2013.

The exhibition examines cultural exchanges during this period, through the movement of goods on Portuguese ships that took over four years of travel roundtrip—from Portugal to Japan, with extended stopovers in India and China.

It explores transformations in Japan’s political, cultural, artistic, technological, and linguistic spheres during the nanban-jin presence—from the arrival of the Portuguese (c. 1543) and the introduction of Christianity by St. Francis Xavier (1549), until the expulsion of the Portuguese in 1639.  Portugal, Jesuits, and Japan highlights a period of internationalism that gave way to Japanese insularity following the departure of the Portuguese. The viewer travels through the complex landscape of religious ideas, customs, and artistic styles that typified the nanban period as an age of exploration.

 “Boston College, one of the premier Jesuit universities in the world, is pleased to collaborate with the government of Portugal and Portuguese institutions on this groundbreaking exhibition examining—through the display of magnificent nanban works of art—the cultural, spiritual, and artistic exchange among Portuguese, Jesuits, and Japanese in the ‘Age of Exploration,’” says McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer.

The exhibitioncomprises seventy works; central to the narrative are seven magnificent folding screens that illustrate Japanese encounters with visiting Portuguese traders and Jesuit missionaries. Examples of the objects depicted on the screens also will be on display: elaborately decorated Japanese furniture, lacquerware, and military equipment; Indian and Chinese ceramics, textiles, and furniture; and paintings by Jesuit-trained Japanese artists. In addition to rare European and Japanese maps, the artifacts and screens tell a fuller story than that documented in contemporary texts.
[MEDIA NOTE: Jpg/Tiff images available on request from the McMullen: please call Kate Shugert at 617.552.4676 or e-mail Slideshow of images, more exhibition details at]

Organizers selected iconic works from institutions and private collections in the US, including the Peabody Essex Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Lenders from Portugal include the Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis, Oporto; Museu de São Roque, Lisbon; Diocese de Coimbra, Sé Nova; and Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, Lisbon, and many private collectors.

According to Consul General of Portugal in Boston, Paulo Cunha Alves: “Portugal, Jesuits, and Japan will be a one-of-a-kind exhibition in America. The beauty and the rareness of the works of art displayed, some of them coming from public and private collections in Portugal, will attract the attention of both scholars and admirers of Asian art. The exhibition explores the profound bonds between commerce and religion at the time of the first globalization promoted by merchants, missionaries, and noblemen at the service of the Portuguese Crown.”

Public Opening Reception: February 18, 2013, 7–9:30 p.m.
On Monday, February 18, from 7 to 9:30 p.m., the public is invited to join BC community members at a free opening reception with a special evening viewing at the Museum, in Devlin Hall Room 101. For information contact 617.552.8587 or

Exhibition Curators
Organized by the McMullen Museum, the exhibition is co-curated by Victoria Weston, Professor of Japanese Art History at University of Massachusetts Boston and Alexandra Curvelo of the Museu do Azulejo in Lisbon, in consultation with Pedro Moura Carvalho of the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore.
 “This exhibition provides an excellent opportunity to view a range of sacred and secular Japanese objects of the highest quality and includes the debut of a pair of stunning folding screens,” Weston said.

 “Above all, this exhibition leads us to reflect on the world that emerged from the time of the first circumnavigations of the globe and in particular on the inclusion of Japan in the new physical and civilizational world map of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries,” noted Curvelo.

Portugal, Jesuits, and Japan: Spiritual Beliefs and Earthly Goods
The six thematic exhibition sections will disclose the most complex interactions that took place between the Japanese and the nanban-jin, a time when the world gradually became more connected. The centerpiece of each section is one or two nanban screens. Comprised of six panels and extending about ten feet, each screen was chosen to depict a different aspect of the arrival of the nanban-jin. Within each section the screen/s will be surrounded by examples of the objects depicted in them as well as by rare maps and publications from the period.

The exhibition will reveal a time when merchants, noblemen, adventurers, and religious missionaries—both European and Japanese—lived between spiritual beliefs and earthly goods and when, especially for the Portuguese, commerce and religion were inextricably bound. Taking two years to travel there from Portugal, Japan for the Portuguese and Jesuits was “another world” on the other edge of the Earth, with different habits and customs. This exhibition aims to contribute to a better understanding of the exchanges that took place when the Japanese encountered the Europeans through examination of objects and written and painted sources. The thematic sections are (for more complete descriptions: 

The “Southern Barbarians” in Japan: It begins by telling a story not yet fully written by scholars, including historically important interpretations of the reception by the Japanese of the strange “barbarians” (nanban-jin) as foreign “curiosities.”
The Nanban-Jin and the Lords of War: This section explores one of the first consequences of the Portuguese presence in Japan—the introduction of firearms.
Japan in the World Map: This section reveals thatfrom about 1550, commercial trading and evangelization became the nanban-jin’s main goals, requiring the world map to be redrawn so Japan could occupy a new position of prominence.
Spiritual Beliefs: The Christian Mission: This section shows how the Christian mission was the primary influence and support behind the development of artistic styles that testify to the interaction between Japanese and European cultures.
Earthly Goods: This section focuses on nanban objects made for secular use.
Asian Voyages: The exhibition concludes witha groundbreaking examination of how nanban screens are important sources of evidence for interregional trade in Asia during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Exhibition Sponsors/Support
The exhibition has been underwritten by Boston College, the Patrons of the McMullen Museum, Leslie and Peter Ciampi, the Camões Institute of Cooperation and Language/Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Portugal, the Consulate General of Portugal in Boston, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, with additional support from the Luso-American Foundation and the Japan Foundation, New York. 

Research by international scholars from a range of disciplines will be published in the accompanying exhibition catalogue. Comprised of eight essays and color reproductions of all works in the exhibition, the catalogue will be published by the McMullen Museum, distributed by the University of Chicago Press, and will be available for purchase from the Boston College Bookstore:

McMullen Museum of Art
The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions and break new ground in the display and scholarship of the works on view. It serves as a dynamic educational resource for all of New England as well as the national and international community. The Museum mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art. In keeping with the University’s central teaching mission, the Museum’s exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs. The McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 by the late BC benefactor, trustee, and art collector John J. McMullen and his wife Jacqueline McMullen.

McMullen Museum Hours and Tours
Admission is free; handicapped accessible, open to the public. Located in Devlin Hall 101
on BC’s Chestnut Hill campus, 140 Commonwealth Avenue. Hours during this exhibition: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Closed: March 29, 31; April 15; May 27. Docent-led tours from 2–2:45 p.m. Sundays from February 24 through June 2, 2013. Tours also arranged upon request by calling 617.552.8587. For directions, parking and program information, call 617.552.8100 or visit