Hasekura Tsunenaga in Rome
The Portrait as a Vestige of the Journey between Asia, America and Europe    

Olga Acosta Luna, Ph.D.

The project will be looking for written and visual representations produced around the Keicho mission ambassador Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga, who traveled from Japan to Europe (1613–1620), through Mexico, in order to request permission from King Philip III in Madrid and Pope Paul V in Rome to establish a commercial relationship and to transfer Catholic missionaries to Japan.

Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga was the Keicho mission ambassador (1613–1620), who was sent by the daimyõ Date Masamune from Japan to Europe in order to request permission to King Philip III in Madrid and to Pope Paul V in Rome to establish a commercial relationship with New Spain and to transfer more Catholic missionaries to Japan. The journey lived since 1613 between Sendai, Acapulco, Mexico City, Veracruz, Cuba, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Seville, Genoa and Rome represented a remarkable event, because around it different visual, material and written vestiges were produced that testify the impact this "striking" entourage caused in the eye of those who admired it.

My proposal looks for the written and visual representations produced around the figure of Hasekura during the Keicho Mission and that has as a final vestige the Roman portrait made in the context of the audience of the samurai with the Pope Paulo V (1615) and attributed to the French painter Claude Deruet, today in the Palazzo Borghese. I am especially interested in seeing the dissimilar written and visual constructions of one figure such as Hasekura and how these representations expose and make visible common and particular frames of reference of authors from different precedents. Particularly, I want to investigate the origin and realization of the portrait of Hasekura in Palazzo Borghese as a central axis, relating it to written sources producing during the journey.

So, by the time the Roman portrait was made, Hasekura had already been baptized in Spain under the name of Felipe Francisco, thus the painting attributed to Deruet shows us the imposing figure of a samurai, but on the background the main presence of Christianity in Hasekura's transoceanic adventure is also visible. Following this idea, I propose that Deruet's œuvre can be considered as a part of a bigger production of images in the West in relation to unknown lands and characters, in such a way that his representations are shown as a translation exercise, using the fashion as European nobility was portrayed at the time allowed the existence of this kind of images. In this sense, the initial hypothesis I will be developing during my stay in Rome, is that the portrait of Hasekura can be read under the light of other similar visual representations made at the end of the 16th century and during the 17th century that have American or related to American characters as protagonists.

Following my hypothesis, the Hasekura's portrait is not an isolated case within the paintings with American motives produced inside or outside of the New World during this period. As key examples of this relationship are the œuvre Los caballeros de Esmeraldas made in Quito in 1599 by the indigenous painter Andrés Sánchez Gallque and sent directly to Philip III, today in the Museum of America in Madrid, and the portrait of Moctezuma dated in the second half of the seventeenth century and attributed to Antonio Rodríguez, today in the Museo degli Argenti in Florence. These portraits, understood in the first instance as official commissions that would enter important collections in Spain and Italy, respectively, fulfill some precise logics of representation where the presence of the material culture such as costumes and clothing are acting as key elements that identify and personify the "otherness" of the character portrayed. This happens both in the case of a mulatto in the Audience of Quito and a Japanese samurai in Rome, these representations of "otherness" manage to blend thanks to the Western portrait tradition.

Publications (Selection)

  • "La Huida a Egipto me parece la mejor obra de Vásquez" Alexander von Humboldt y el paisaje en la obra de Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos", in Barroco. Paisaje y naturaleza, La Paz/ Buenos Aires 2019, pp. 309–318.
  • "Como partes de un todo: apuntes sobre las funciones de una colección escultórica", in Museo Colonial, Catálogo Museo Colonial – Volumen II: Escultura, Bogotá 2018, pp. 45–65.
  • "El 'Velázquez mexicano': Felipe Santiago Gutiérrez en Colombia" (exhibition Ciudad de México 2017), ed. MUNAL: Museo Nacional de Arte de México pp. 132–141.
  • "El redentor de los hijos del sol. El Inca Atahualpa como símbolo de la Independencia suramericana", in 1810-1910-2010. Independencias dependientes. Arte e Identidad nacional en América Latina, ed. Henrik Karge, Bruno Klein, Frankfurt et al. 2016, pp. 291–301.
  • Milagrosas imágenes marianas en la Nueva Granada, Madrid et al. 2011 (Iberoamericana Editorial Vervuert).
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