A Fantastic Journey to the East: the Oriental Museum of Lisbon

Museum of the Orient, Museu do Oriente, Lisbon, Portugal

When creating a list of museums to visit in Lisbon, I wasn’t that bothered about getting to the Museum of the Orient.  There were other priorities.  On our last day in the city, I decided to go here first, spend a few hours, and hop on to another place nearby.

We stayed until we had to leave for our flight home.

In fact, if we had not visited this museum, we would have missed out on something really special.

The museum is actually a new kid on the industrial Alcântara waterfront block.  It opened in 2008 and looks at the history of Portuguese involvement in Asia through formidable displays which also pre-date Portuguese involvement.  What you get is a good idea of how the intrepid European explorers influenced Eastern cultures, and helped in the creation of fascinating hybrid works for domestic use and export.

Interestingly, the collection is new, too, based on a few decades’ worth of a spending spree, picking up treasures from auctions and private collectors.  This has been supplemented by donations from individuals, including the Kwok On collection, which brought a vast resource of over 13,000 objects into the museum’s life in 1999.

The building also has an interesting history: the Pedro Álvarez Cobral warehouse, designed by João Simões in 1938, was constructed for the Salt-cod Industry Regulation Board to store – unsurprisingly – salt-cod, but also fruit.  In keeping with the government’s requirements at the time, the building contained facilities for the workers, including a gymnasium, basketball court, bath house and an ice rink.  An interesting insight into the working standards of the day.

The museum is basically divided over two floors – the 1st Level has a collection of objects from China, Macau, India, Japan, Korea and East Timor, while the 2nd Level has rotating exhibitions from the vast Kwok On collection.  When I visited this was on Chinese Opera, but as is shown in the nicely produced museum book, there is a chance that when you visit you may see puppets or masks or a mixed bag exploring Asian ethnography.  Whatever it is, I bet it’ll be good.

This post will do a little survey of the goodies on show on the 1st Level.  I should note that some objects from the same country were scattered over two rooms, but for the sake of my own thematic consistency, I’ve put them together.

China and Macau

Relations between the Chinese and Portuguese began when Jorge Álvares arrived in Guangzhou in 1513.  Their initial contact established trade, and relations were pretty good until 1519, when Simão de Andrade arrived and began a string of disrespectful and stupid actions that flouted Chinese law and customs.  One of his lasting impressions was in the establishment of a child slave trade, which escalated locally with stories of the children being cannibalised by the Portuguese.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, things got ugly: many Portuguese were killed in Canton and the remaining men scampered back out to sea.

A period of messy relations continued – largely due to further bad behaviour on the part of the Portuguese, and in fact things became so bad that there were complaints from other Europeans that they were getting penalised because the Chinese considered everyone to be as bad as the Portuguese.

Things got better.  According to Portuguese sources, in 1543, a boat trading in the South China Sea was swept off course during a terrible typhoon.  It landed on the Japanese Islands where it was caught up in a Civil War.

Not only was all not well in Japan, but relations with China were at a low.  The Japanese were indulging in piracy along the Chinese coast and there were reciprocal raids on Japan.  Officially the Chinese government cut off relations with Japan, which brought an end to the silk-for-silver arrangement that had pleased the respective nations so well.  The Portuguese therefore found themselves in a perfect situation of playing go-between, which they did with much success, first establishing themselves on Sancian Island, and then at the mouth of the Pearl River, in Macau, which became an important port on route from Malacca to Japan.  Within a few years, Macau had become one of the largest and busiest ports in the South China Sea.

Chinese porcelain was already well-regarded in Europe before the Portuguese went to the country, but the trade grew hugely once Macau was established as a port in 1557.  Originally the designs were same as those for the domestic Chinese audience, but soon workshops began decorating models specifically for the European markets.  One particularly successful trade was in heraldic porcelain dishes, which became a must-have amongst the noble houses of Europe.

Screen depicting a tributary mission to China, second half of 17th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Screen depicting a tributary mission to China, second half of 17th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a pineapple from a screen depicting a tributary mission to China, second half of 17th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a pineapple from a screen depicting a tributary mission to China, second half of 17th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a European ship from a Screen depicting a tributary mission to China, second half of 17th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a European ship from a Screen depicting a tributary mission to China, second half of 17th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

In 1685, China agreed to open up a second port to help deal with European trade – this saw the creation of Canton, and precipitated the decline of Macau.  The Portuguese had been acting as a successful middle-man dealing with the European market, but Canton’s opening allowed for other countries to establish their own factories and business links.  This major blow was followed by the end of trade with Japan in 1639.  The Portuguese had to search for new markets, and travelled mainly to Makassar, Timor, Borneo, Java and Tonkin, although Macau spluttered on as a major port until the 19th century.

Palanquin, 19th century, China, painted wood, iron, cane, lacquer, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  This sort of chair was usually covered with rich textiles, and was used by women.

Palanquin, 19th century, China, painted wood, iron, cane, lacquer, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  This sort of chair was usually covered with rich textiles, and was used by women.

Female Figure, China, c1790, painting on glass, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  These were painted on the reverse.  Very popular in Canton, such works were acquired by traders for reselling, and by ship crew members as souvenirs. A large portion of the output went to the British and American markets.

Female Figure, China, c1790, painting on glass, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  These were painted on the reverse.  Very popular in Canton, such works were acquired by traders for reselling, and by ship crew members as souvenirs. A large portion of the output went to the British and American markets.

Western Figure, first half of 17th century, Macau, granite, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. According to tradition, this sculpture represents a Dutchman and is likely to have been made by Dutch prisoners following a failed attempt to capture Macau in 1622.

Western Figure, first half of 17th century, Macau, granite, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. According to tradition, this sculpture represents a Dutchman and is likely to have been made by Dutch prisoners following a failed attempt to capture Macau in 1622.

This fascinating screen below, from China, is displayed in the section with the Indian and Japanese objects.  It shows a succession of Biblical scenes in central focus, which allowed the local craftsmen to use traditional Chinese decorative motifs to fill in the ‘frames’ around them.  That the whole piece was made by a non-Christian is also clear, because even though the Biblical scenes were taken from European models, they have been heavily reinterpreted (and sometimes freely ad-libbed) to create this screen.  The result is a unique and very charming piece which demonstrates a burgeoning understanding of the Europeans and Christians within the context of a strong Chinese culture that wasn’t always supportive of these intrusive forces.

Screen showing Episodes from Christ's life, 17th-18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  Stylistically there is some similarity to the works produced by Chinese and Japanese artists trained in Western painting seminaries.  These were established in Japan in the late 16th century and transferred to China in the early 17th century.

Screen showing Episodes from Christ’s life, 17th-18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  Stylistically there is some similarity to the works produced by Chinese and Japanese artists trained in Western painting seminaries.  These were established in Japan in the late 16th century and transferred to China in the early 17th century.

Detail of St John the Baptist with St Elizabeth and St Zachariah from a Screen showing Episodes from Christ's life, 17th-18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of St John the Baptist with St Elizabeth and St Zachariah from a Screen showing Episodes from Christ’s life, 17th-18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the Flight to Egypt from a Screen showing Episodes from Christ's life, 17th-18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the Flight to Egypt from a Screen showing Episodes from Christ’s life, 17th-18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of Christ in Emmaus from a Screen showing Episodes from Christ's life, 17th-18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of Christ in Emmaus from a Screen showing Episodes from Christ’s life, 17th-18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of St Matthew from a Screen showing Episodes from Christ's life, 17th-18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of St Matthew from a Screen showing Episodes from Christ’s life, 17th-18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of St Martin from a Screen showing Episodes from Christ's life, 17th-18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of St Martin from a Screen showing Episodes from Christ’s life, 17th-18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

The missionaries, who had been fairly successful in Japan, found China a harder nut to crack.  The Jesuits set up an Order in Macau in 1563, but their work was limited to the small Portuguese-speaking Chinese population who worked locally.  In order to break China proper, the Jesuits realised that they would have to study both Chinese language and culture.  Two Italians arrived in Macau from Goa for this purpose – Michele Ruggieri and Matteo Ricci.

Both men understood that to appeal to the Chinese, they had to adapt a little to the forms of religion that were practiced – Buddhism and Taoism for the general population, and Confucianism amongst the educated classes.  They entered into philosophical dialogues with Chinese scholars, and evidently earned a certain amount of respect for their intelligent approach to local beliefs.

The Jesuits also cleverly used knowledge as a way of winning over the Chinese: they began to pass on information about European developments in mathematics, science and astronomy.  For example in 1627, the Jesuit Johann Schreck produced the first book on Western mechanical knowledge for the Chinese: “Diagrams and explanations of the Wonderful Machines of the Far West”.  In short, there was an enthusiastic and mutually beneficial exchange of information between the Chinese and Europeans, that was not only useful in a practical sense but also helped stabilise the position of Christianity in China.

With a few hiccups.  Quite brutal hiccups sometimes.  Still, let’s not dwell on that…

Virgin Mary, c1780, China, painting on glass, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  Religious images on glass are very rare and were bought by Portuguese or other Catholics - unlike the other types of reverse-glass paintings, which went to England and America.

Virgin Mary, c1780, China, painting on glass, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  Religious images on glass are very rare and were bought by Portuguese or other Catholics – unlike the other types of reverse-glass paintings, which went to England and America.

Dom Alexandre Gouveia, Bishop of Peking, 1753, Joaquim Manuel Rocha & Joaquim Leonardo da Rocha, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Dom Alexandre Gouveia, Bishop of Peking, 1753, Joaquim Manuel Rocha & Joaquim Leonardo da Rocha, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

The museum also has a collection of objects which aren’t related to the trade with Portugal.  There are some beautiful works from the Neolithic period onwards.

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Chimera, 3rd century AD, Yue kilns, Zhejiang province, China, greyish-green glazed sandstone, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Vase with lid, 206BC-9AD, China, painted terracotta, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  During this period, contact was established between eastern Asia and the western world.

Vase with lid, 206BC-9AD, China, painted terracotta, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  During this period, contact was established between eastern Asia and the western world.

Dog, 25BC-220AD; Horse, 205BC-220AD, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Dog, 25BC-220AD; Horse, 205BC-220AD, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Zodiac Figures, 960-1279, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Zodiac Figures, 960-1279, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Tomb Figures, 17th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Tomb Figures, 17th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Painting Album of Buddhist religious practise, anonymous, 1821-1850, China, on fig leaf, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Painting Album of Buddhist religious practise, anonymous, 1821-1850, China, on fig leaf, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Painting Album, 18th and 19th centuries, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. There are 12 sheets in the album with fans by various artists, displaying different techniques and themes.

Painting Album, 18th and 19th centuries, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. There are 12 sheets in the album with fans by various artists, displaying different techniques and themes.

Painting Scroll, 18th century, Shangguan Zhou, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Painting Scroll, 18th century, Shangguan Zhou, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

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Detail of a Painting Scroll, 18th century, Shangguan Zhou, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Pair of Women's Shoes, 19th century, China, silk, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Pair of Women’s Shoes, 19th century, China, silk, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Display of bottles in the Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Display of bottles in the Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Box for Mandarin Necklace, 18th century, China, amber, coral, jade and leather, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Box for Mandarin Necklace, 18th century, China, amber, coral, jade and leather, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Short dragon attire/Mang Hao, 18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  Typical costume of the Han.

Short dragon attire/Mang Hao, 18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  Typical costume of the Han.

Detail of the short dragon attire/Mang Hao, 18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the short dragon attire/Mang Hao, 18th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Zhenwu, the Perfect Warrior, 14th/15th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. Such figures were popular in the Yuan and Ming periods.

Zhenwu, the Perfect Warrior, China, 14th/15th century, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  Such figures were popular in the Yuan and Ming periods.

Buddha, 13th/14th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Buddha, 13th/14th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Guanyin, 1628-1644, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Guanyin, 1628-1644, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Immortal Zhongli Quan or Zhongli of Han, late 19th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Immortal Zhongli Quan or Zhongli of Han, late 19th century, China, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Korea

While the objects on show from Korea don’t directly relate to their relations with Portugal, with whom they had contact during the Eastern exploratory heyday of the 16th century, it is interesting that the collection includes paintings by a 19th century artist who was a Christian. Kim Jun-guen, who is known by his artistic name of Kisan, painted a series of watercolours which showed aspects of Korean life.  They are very sweetly painted and provide an interesting insight into the Korean world of the 19th century.

Korean Folklore Scenes and Customs, late 19th century, Kim Jun-guen, aka Kisan, Korea,  Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  He was a Christian Korean artist.

Korean Folklore Scenes and Customs, late 19th century, Kim Jun-guen, aka Kisan, Korea,  Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  He was a Christian Korean artist.

Korean Folklore Scenes and Customs, late 19th century, Kim Jun-guen, aka Kisan, Korea,  Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Korean Folklore Scenes and Customs, late 19th century, Kim Jun-guen, aka Kisan, Korea,  Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Korean Folklore Scenes and Customs, late 19th century, Kim Jun-guen, aka Kisan, Korea,  Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Korean Folklore Scenes and Customs, late 19th century, Kim Jun-guen, aka Kisan, Korea,  Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

East Timor

With the decline of Portuguese dominance in China, new sources for trade needed to be found.  The Portuguese, finding the island abundant with sandalwood, settled in East Timor in 1515 and consequently almost led to the tree becoming extinct.  Coffee became an import crop from the mid-19th century, but on the whole the Portuguese neglected their colony.

Equestrian Statue, c1940, East Timor, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. This is the horse that transports the soul of the deceased to the ancestors' land of rest.

Equestrian Statue, c1940, East Timor, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. This is the horse that transports the soul of the deceased to the ancestors’ land of rest.

Votive Statue, c1940, East Timor (Maliana), Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Votive Statue, c1940, East Timor (Maliana), Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Cotton Gin, c1920, East Timor (Oecussi), Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  The seeds are drawn between two cylinders and pressed by moving the handle to separate vegetable fibres from the rest of the seeds. This produced threads for ceremonial clothes (namely for births, marriages and deaths).

Cotton Gin, c1920, East Timor (Oecussi), Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  The seeds are drawn between two cylinders and pressed by moving the handle to separate vegetable fibres from the rest of the seeds. This produced threads for ceremonial clothes (namely for births, marriages and deaths).

Goa, India and Sri Lanka

Vasco de Gama’s successful landing in Calicut in India in 1498 eventually led to the whole subcontinent opening up to European traders.  Goa became the capital of the Portuguese Estado da Índia and as such was home for the merchants, soldiers and officials that came from Portugal.  This created a unique society, where European tastes and lifestyle expectations mingled with the culture and skills of India.  The result was a creation of a new style of art, termed Luso-Oriental, often combining European and Indian motifs with local ideas of colour, and most importantly, made with their extraordinary craftsmanship.

Visitors to Goa were usually scornful of the populace’s excessively ostentatious lifestyle – often the Portuguese had travelled out there with the simplest, most portable objects, but once they settled down in their new home, they knocked themselves out by dressing in sumptuous fabrics and, for example, writing at ornate desks.

Portable Cabinet, c1635-1680, Sri Lanka, ivory, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Portable Cabinet, c1635-1680, Sri Lanka, ivory, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Writing desk, 17th century, India, malabar blackwood, teak and ivory, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Writing desk, 17th century, India, malabar blackwood, teak and ivory, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the writing desk, 17th century, India, malabar blackwood, teak and ivory, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the writing desk, 17th century, India, malabar blackwood, teak and ivory, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

But it wasn’t all just vanity.  The missionaries were massive consumers of locally made objects in Asia, and there is a range of liturgical odds and ends on show at the museum, including the extraordinary ivories.  The most fascinating are the figures of the Good Shepherd, a Goan speciality that shows the cross-cultural nature of works created for the Christian mission.

Calvary Crucifix, first half of 18th century, Goa, wood, ivory, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Calvary Crucifix, first half of 18th century, Goa, wood, ivory, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Christ, 17th century, Sri Lankan/Portuguese, ivory, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Christ, 17th century, Sri Lankan/Portuguese, ivory, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

The Good Shepherd represents, to the Christian eye, the parable from the Gospel of St John, where Jesus states that he is like ‘the good shepherd’ who lays down his life for his flock.  What I find interesting, and this is just my observation, is how the story of the Good Shepherd was also very popular in the days of early Christianity.  That the same subject was popular amongst the new converts in India, to me indicates a fascinating parallel showing the universal appeal of this simple pastoral image.

However, just as the early Christians took imagery from the prevailing culture of the classical world in order to become comprehensible to their audience, the 16th century Christians adopted artistic language that was already meaningful in India.  In this context, the parallels are with Buddhism: the setting would remind their audience of the moment of the Buddha’s second meditation, when he went back to the tree under which he was born, and proclaimed that he would not be reborn.  The crossed legs and thoughtful head-in-hand pose of the youthful Christ was also familiar to Indian audiences as a traditional pose of meditation.

The context in which the Good Shepherd sits is dependent on the didactic needs of its commissioner.  Some are very plain (like the one below), and others have complex iconography (like the one in the Museum of Ancient Art in Lisbon).  Either way, these Good Shepherds are delicately crafted, with fascinating levels of detail, and are just beautiful to look at.

Good Shepherd, 17th century, Goa, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Good Shepherd, 17th century, Goa, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

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Good Shepherd, 17th century, Goa, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Indian fabrics were popular in Europe, and objects like the ‘Gujarati Carpet’ below, would have been found in households across Portugal, used as bedspreads or wall-coverings.  On Vasco de Gama’s return to Lisbon, he not only brought rare and exotic objects, but he also brought some Indian embroiderers who were to teach their skills to Queen Maria.

Cover, 18th century, India (Gujarat) embroidered cotton, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. Such covers were used on floors, tables, walls, as quilts and at religious institutions.

Cover, 18th century, India (Gujarat) embroidered cotton, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. Such covers were used on floors, tables, walls, as quilts and at religious institutions.

Detail of a flower on the Cover, 18th century, India (Gujarat) embroidered cotton, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. Such covers were used on floors, tables, walls, as quilts and at religious institutions.

Detail of a flower on the Cover, 18th century, India (Gujarat) embroidered cotton, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. Such covers were used on floors, tables, walls, as quilts and at religious institutions.

Cloak, late 18th century, Indo-Portuguese, embroidered silk with matelassé stitch, which creates a quilted effect, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Cloak, late 18th century, Indo-Portuguese, embroidered silk with matelassé stitch, which creates a quilted effect, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Alb (liturgical garment), c1600-1630, India (Bengal), linen embroidered with yellow tussah silk thread in chain stitch and bobbin lace applications using linen thread, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. .

Alb (liturgical garment), c1600-1630, India (Bengal), linen embroidered with yellow tussah silk thread in chain stitch and bobbin lace applications using linen thread, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a hunter on a Quilt, 17th century, India, cotton embroidered with red, yellow and white silk thread, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  The central panel shows the merciful pelican, and the border shows Portuguese hunters.

Detail of a hunter on a Quilt, 17th century, India, cotton embroidered with red, yellow and white silk thread, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  The central panel shows the merciful pelican, and the border shows Portuguese hunters.

Detail of a lion on a Quilt, 17th century, India, cotton embroidered with red, yellow and white silk thread, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a lion on a Quilt, 17th century, India, cotton embroidered with red, yellow and white silk thread, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of rabbits on a Quilt, 17th century, India, cotton embroidered with red, yellow and white silk thread, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of rabbits on a Quilt, 17th century, India, cotton embroidered with red, yellow and white silk thread, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a hunter on a Quilt,  17th century, India, cotton embroidered with red, yellow and white silk thread, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a hunter on a Quilt, 17th century, India, cotton embroidered with red, yellow and white silk thread, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of sirens on a Quilt,  17th century, India, cotton embroidered with red, yellow and white silk thread, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of sirens on a Quilt, 17th century, India, cotton embroidered with red, yellow and white silk thread, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a hunter on a Quilt,  17th century, India, cotton embroidered with red, yellow and white silk thread, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a hunter on a Quilt, 17th century, India, cotton embroidered with red, yellow and white silk thread, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Ganesh, 19th/20th century, India, silver, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Ganesh, 19th/20th century, India, silver, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Japan

With the Portuguese providentially falling into a trading position with Japan, they started a trend that continued with other European groups, thus starting a period referred to as the Nanban trade – “Southern Barbarian trade”.  The Portuguese founded Nagasaki in 1571, thanks to Jesuit help, which in a way set up the inherent problem that was faced later: that trade with the outside world came to be seen as being linked to Christianity and suffered in consequence whenever Christians were viewed with suspicion.  When relations deteriorated, due to various political actions, Western trade fell with the persecuted Christians (except for an outpost of Dejima which continued to be used by the Dutch).

Though the Japanese were particularly keen to get the Chinese goods that they were banned from accessing directly, they also became enamoured of certain European products, like soap and tobacco.  As the Portuguese arrived during a period of civil war in Japan, there was also a big market for muskets.  However, it wasn’t long before the Japanese were able to manufacture the guns themselves and soon made better models than the originals.

The artistic scene also changed with the arrival of the Europeans.  Some of these changes are quite subtle, hybridisations of Japanese traditions and European novelties.  The helmet below, for example, uses local lacquer techniques, but the shape of the hat is influenced by those worn by the Portuguese.

Helmet (Namban Boshi), c1600, Japan, washi paper and lacquer, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  The hybrid shape of the piece evokes both European and Japanese examples.

Helmet (Namban Boshi), c1600, Japan, washi paper and lacquer, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal.  The hybrid shape of the piece evokes both European and Japanese examples.  The mon, or family emblem, belongs to Maru ni Tachi Omodaka.

It was with the arrival of St Francis Xavier in 1549 that Catholicism took off in Japan: within about fifty years, the church boasted of having 200,000 converts.  As always, art played a part in this process.  It is interesting that St Francis Xavier gifted the daimyo of Satsuma a painting of the Virgin and Child, which formed the basis for many copies.  Presumably to keep up with demand, or to create better standards of painting, Giovanni Niccolò created a seminary in Japan which trained up artists from Japan and China.  Even after the missionaries were expelled from Japan the influence of this work continued, as evidenced by the painting below.

Oratory, late 16th-early 17th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. The painting can be attributed to the Jesuit school of painting, which started in Japan in the 1580s.

Oratory, late 16th-early 17th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. The painting can be attributed to the Jesuit school of painting, which started in Japan in the 1580s.

Another unique creation of the meeting of two cultures is the nanban screen.  Though the screens were already in existence prior to the arrival of the Portuguese, the new element was the fashion for adding a group of nanban-jin (the Southern Barbarians).  The Kano School was a major force in the creation of a repertoire of scenes depicting the exotic foreigners and their black ships.  Even the Itsukushima Screen below, which is predominantly occupied with showing temples, monks and the daily goings-on at this important pilgrimage site, has a small procession of Europeans in its upper corner (though, clever me, I didn’t take a picture of that interesting detail).

Detail of a Folding Screen showing the island of Itsukushima, first quarter of the 18th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a Folding Screen showing the island of Itsukushima, first quarter of the 18th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a Folding Screen showing the island of Itsukushima, first quarter of the 18th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a Folding Screen showing the island of Itsukushima, first quarter of the 18th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a Nanban Screen, 1615-1868, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. This belongs to a generation of screens that appeared following the originals made by the Japanese Kano school, in the late 16th century.

Detail of a Nanban Screen, 1615-1868, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. This belongs to a generation of screens that appeared following the originals made by the Japanese Kano school, in the late 16th century.

Detail of a Nanban Screen, 1615-1868, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. This belongs to a generation of screens that appeared following the originals made by the Japanese Kano school, in the late 16th century.

Detail of a Nanban Screen, 1615-1868, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal. This belongs to a generation of screens that appeared following the originals made by the Japanese Kano school, in the late 16th century.

Detail of a Nanban Screen, 1615-1868, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a Nanban Screen, 1615-1868, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

And again here are some non-trade related beauties from Japan…

Screen, first half of 19th century, signed Tsuda Dou-Sen of the Kano school, Akita Province, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Screen, first half of 19th century, signed Tsuda Dou-Sen of the Kano school, Akita Province, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a Screen, first half of 19th century, signed Tsuda Dou-Sen of the Kano school, Akita Province, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a Screen, first half of 19th century, signed Tsuda Dou-Sen of the Kano school, Akita Province, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a Screen, first half of 19th century, signed Tsuda Dou-Sen of the Kano school, Akita Province, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a Screen, first half of 19th century, signed Tsuda Dou-Sen of the Kano school, Akita Province, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a Screen, first half of 19th century, signed Tsuda Dou-Sen of the Kano school, Akita Province, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of a Screen, first half of 19th century, signed Tsuda Dou-Sen of the Kano school, Akita Province, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Ryo Takahimo Renjaku Do suit of armour, 17th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Ryo Takahimo Renjaku Do suit of armour, 17th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Shibayama Shrine with sitting Buddha, late 19th/early 20th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Shibayama Shrine with sitting Buddha, late 19th/early 20th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the Shibayama Shrine with sitting Buddha, late 19th/early 20th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the Shibayama Shrine with sitting Buddha, late 19th/early 20th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the Shibayama Shrine with sitting Buddha, late 19th/early 20th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the Shibayama Shrine with sitting Buddha, late 19th/early 20th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Pagoda Shaped Satsuma floor vase from the Imperial Palace, late 19th/early 20th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Pagoda Shaped Satsuma floor vase from the Imperial Palace, late 19th/early 20th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the Pagoda Shaped Satsuma floor vase from the Imperial Palace, late 19th/early 20th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the Pagoda Shaped Satsuma floor vase from the Imperial Palace, late 19th/early 20th century, Japan, Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

So In Summary

Wow – what a wonderful museum.  I just adored everything about it.  It’s so thoughtfully and lovingly curated and the displays are beautifully arranged so that you can actually see even small details quite well thanks to the good lighting.  They obviously have a varied collection, some objects of extraordinary quality, and an ambition to make it grow further.  In some ways it goes over the ground of the Museum of Ancient Art down the road – and in another sense it covers what should be in the Maritime Museum.  If you want to get a good overview of the world of East Asia, this is a definite must visit.

Further Information

When I visited there was an exhibition on Chinese Opera.

The museum has a website with information in English: www.museudooriente.pt

And they had a nice gift shop with some wonderful books and objects from around the world.

And they even had a good cafe – look at this cappuccino!  And it was cheap!  And the service was great!

An excellent cappuccino at the cafe in the Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

Museum of the Orient, Lisbon, Portugal

How To Get There

We found the museum a bit tricky to get to.  There was quite a bit of work going on around it, and there are lots of roads and flyovers so it comes across as quite intimidating.  The best thing to do is to get a tram, either the 18E or 15E and get off at the Av. Infante Santo.  For more information on Lisbon’s transport, check on this site: www.carris.pt

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