Lutes on Namban screens

Some dozen Japanese “Namban” screens (c.1600) combine musical subjects with crypto-religious scenes. A languid young woman plays the lute or viola da mão. Japanese painters, trained in a temporary Jesuit “academy”, copied engravings imported from Europe. The daimyos or rich merchants who bought these luxury articles could recognize the courtly function of the gagaku biwa. The Tensho embassy (1582-1590) was the perfect example of the musical diplomacy practised by the Society of Jesus.