Lydia Breksa and Faculty Mentor: Eric Dursteler, History
During the early modern period in Italy (1400s-1700s), nobles and organizations (e.g.,
guilds, oligarchies etc.) established a pattern of using artwork to demonstrate their power,
standing in society, and relevance to current events. The exchange of diplomatic visitors, known
as embassies, was common at this time and interactions with these dignitaries from other states
in Europe, are examples of events recorded in the form of art or literature. Interactions with
unusual visitors, such as moor slaves, were also recorded. While the pattern of recording
interactions in the form of art and literature was pervasive, it was curiously lacking for the
Tenshō embassy, the first Japanese embassy to Italy. Scholars have proposed two theories as to
why there are no enduring artworks or literature accounting the embassy’s visit.
The first theory by Cooper states that the Europeans’ curiosity about the Japanese
embassy and Japan diminished but does not explain why. The second theory by Brown states that
the lack of enduring records was because those in Europe decreased the differences between the
Japanese youth and themselves. However, this does not address the fact that other diplomatic
interactions with Europeans did have enduring records. Seeing that their methodologies of
looking at Italy or Europe as a whole did not provide a solution, a micro-level approach of
focusing on one location that the embassy visited is needed.
I decided to take a micro-level approach by focusing on one location that the embassy
visited- Siena. I also hypothesized that this difference between the Japanese embassy and the
other visitors could most likely be found in how those in Siena viewed the embassy and Japan
and her people through this embassy. I used Adriana Boscaro’s bibliography of texts published
about the Japanese in Europe in the 1500s-1600s, worked with scholars at their respective
archives and libraries, and searched. I selected texts published around the embassy’s visit that
would have been available in Siena. All texts were either in Italian or Latin and only two of the
ones I looked for were available online.
I looked at texts located in the Vatican Archive, the National libraries of Rome, Venice,
and Florence and the Siena state archive and communal library. I found texts describing Japan
and the embassy before the embassy visited Siena and texts focused on the interactions of the
Japanese youth and the Pope in Rome following the visit in Siena. In this process I discovered a
letter written by a man in Siena describing the youth shortly after the Tenshō embassy had left
his city, Siena.
Looking at the evolving views of the Tenshō embassy and Japan in Siena, showed that
those in Siena first viewed the Japanese as exotic dignitaries but by the end of the Tenshō
embassy’s visit in Europe, saw them as Christian pilgrims, and therefore not warranting
commemoration through art and literature. They were still seen as distinct from Europe.
My hypothesis was correct; looking at the contemporary descriptions about the Tenshō
embassy located in various archives and libraries in Italy, allowed me to answer this baffling
question of why, despite the outburst of information about the Tenshō embassy and Japan, and
the established pattern of using diplomatic interactions to demonstrate status, nothing enduring
was produced. The second theory states that the Japanese were viewed as Europeans but the
primary sources show that they were viewed as Christian pilgrims.
Brown, Judith C. “The First Japanese Emissaries to Europe.” Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 47, no.
4, Winter 1994, pp. 872-906, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2863218. Accessed 22
Cooper, Michael. “Assessment of the Enterprise.” The Japanese Mission to Europe, 1582-1590:
The Journey of Four Samurai Boys Through Portugal, Spain and Italy, Global Oriental,