Name of Object:

Namban Oratory


Convent of Santa Maria da Caridade, Sardoal, District of Santarém, Portugal

Holding Museum:

Sardoal's Holy House of Mercy, Sardoal

Date of Object:

Late 16th century

Artist(s) / Craftsperson(s):

Unknown artist

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Painting: oil on copper; frame: wood, lacquer (urushi), gold powder, silver powder (maki-e), copper and mother of pearl inlay (raden)


H: 47.2 cm; l: 35 cm; w: 5.1 cm

Period / Dynasty:

Azuchi/Momoyama periods

Workshop / Movement:



Portuguese India (?)

Type of object:

Ecclesiastical furniture

Place of production:



This rectangular oratory surmounted by a triangular pediment with the monogram IHS (the abbreviation of the Greek IHSOUS, or JESUS) located at the centre, has two side-panels enclosing a painting of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus. Although the lacquer decoration presents a predominantly Japanese ornamental grammar – especially a floral one – both its form and the iconography embody Christian cultural references. The pictorial image is itself an example of the possible interaction between the Jesuit painting school – operating in Japan since the 1580s – and the Japanese pupils that quickly demonstrated skill in Western-style painting.
As it is, such a hybrid object, that crosses different artistic backgrounds, could only have been made during the Portuguese presence in Japan, during the period spanning approximately 1549 to 1640.
The oratory is mentioned in the Inventário Artístico de Santarém (Santarém Artistic Inventory) as Indo-Portuguese lacquer work. Such misinformation reveals how, in the middle of the 20th century, such an item was unfamiliar to the European public in general, but that was not the case in the late 16th and beginning of the 17th century, at least not for the Portuguese elite. Such a statement can only be based on the remaining objects – with or without associated painting – the number of which has expanded increasingly during the last three decades (this example did not come to light until 1985). A fact that also draws attention to the demands of the Iberian market for these objects at the time.
The Sardoal Oratory has the particularity of being associated with a religious space, thanks to an inscription located on the altar of Nossa Senhora da Esperança in the Church of Nossa Senhora da Caridade. This text, dated 1670, is the earliest known reference in Portugal to a reminiscent Namban object.

View Short Description

A lacquered Namban oratory with a floral design in gold and silver powder (maki-e) and mother of pearl inlay (raden) with a painting of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus.

Original Owner:

Gaspar de Sousa Lacerda (?)

Current Owner:

Santa Casa da Misericórdia, Sardoal

How date and origin were established:

The date and origin of the object were established on stylistic grounds and partially by the inscription (see text above).

How Object was obtained:

The object was transferred from the church of Nossa Senhora da Caridade to the Santa Casa da Misericórdia.

Selected bibliography:

Okamoto, Y., The Namban Art of Japan, New York, Tokyo, 1972.
Pinto, M. and Mendes, H., Lacas Namban em Portugal. Presença portuguesa no Japão, Lisbon, 1990.
Watanabe, T., “Namban lacquer shrines: some new discoveries” in Lacquerwork in Asia and Beyond. A Colloquy held 22–24 June 1981, William Watson (ed), London: Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, SOAS, [n.d], pp. 194–210. (Colloquies on Art and Archaeology in Asia, 11).
Cristo fonte de esperança. Exposição do grande Jubileu do ano 2000, Exhibition catalogue, Diocese do Porto, 2000.
Impey, O. and Jörg, C., Japanese export lacquer 1580–1850, Amsterdam, 2005..

Citation of this web page:

Alexandra Curvelo "Namban Oratory" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2021.;BAR;pt;Mus11_A;3;en

Prepared by: Alexandra Curvelo
Translation by: Alexandra Curvelo
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: PT 05