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Southern Barbarians

A work made of pair of six-panel screens; ink, colors, and gold on paper.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of pair of six-panel screens; ink, colors, and gold on paper.


mid 17th century


Artist unknown

About this artwork




A large Portuguese trading ship (nao) with a full crew draws near to land, about to dock as locals and Westerners alike await its arrival at the port of Nagasaki on Japan’s southernmost island of Kyushu. Later, as depicted on the right screen, the foreigners have made their way into town and are about to call at the settlement set up there by their fellow countrymen, many of whom were Christian missionaries.

Such screens—presenting the arrival and activity of the Portuguese in Japan—are known as namban (southern barbarian) screens, the term applied to these visitors ever since they first came to Japan from their Southeast Asian trading bases, some as far away as Malacca on the Malay Peninsula.

Because screens were the primary way to record the visual details of festivals, processions, and the arrival of foreign envoys, and to celebrate their pageantry, it is therefore not unusual that the screen format would have been preferred to depict the wondrous presence of the Portuguese. Although the namban screen genre may have been initially inspired by actual events, it should be stressed that most screens of this subject, like the Art Institute works, do not necessarily depict specific events.


Currently Off View


Arts of Asia


Southern Barbarians


Japan (Object made in)




Pair of six-panel screens; ink, colors, and gold on paper


Each: 170.4 × 370 cm (67 1/8 × 145 11/16 in.)

Credit Line

Art Institute of Chicago, Robert Allerton Endowment Fund

Reference Number


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