Alessandro Valignano, one of the first Jesuit missionaries sent to Japan with Francis Xavier, who later became the first canonised Jesuit saint, appreciated that art communicated where languages often couldn't. In a desire to both educate and provide Christian art to new converts, Valignano wrote to Rome requesting an accomplished Christian artist who could both produce art for his mission as well as teach students. Giovanni Niccolo arrived in Japan in 1583 "and began to train students, including Watano Mancio, Mancio Joao, and Pedro Joao. The Seminario de Pintura, or Painting School, was officially established in Kumamoto around 1590." The Painting School's students included not only Japanese, but also Europeans and Chinese who were taught a variety of techniques ranging from oil to watercolours. Examples of its students' works were shipped to Rome as proof of its success. Although the school had to relocate several times to avoid persecution, it was eventually exiled from Japan less than three decades later when the last missionaries were expelled from Japan in 1614.
The school would become the largest school of western painting in Asia. While there, Niccolo also created devotional objects for use by Japanese Catholic churches and converts. His preferred images were primarily the Salvator Mundi and Madonna. No known works remain that can be positively attributed to Giovanni Niccolo, although a tentative identification of an oil sketch of the Virgin and Child currently in an Osaka collection has been made.
Several of the school's students fled to Macau where they contributed to St. Paul's Cathedral, while some were sent to China to assist Matteo Ricci. These included Emmanuele Pereira (1572-1630, the artist of the only picture we have of Matteo Ricci painted by someone who had known and seen him) and Ni Yagu (1579-1638, who painted two large altarpieces for Saint Paul's church in Macau in 1601) who became famous in their own right.
- Onn, Clement, "Christianity in Japan 1549-1639" in Chong, Alan, ed. Christianity in Asia: Sacred Art and Visual Splendour. Singapore: Dominie Press, 2016. ISBN 978-981-09-9685-7, p. 174
- Onn, p. 177
- Lach, Donald F, and Edwin J Van Kley: Asia in the Making of Europe, vol.II, book I; The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1993, p.67
- Bailey, Gauvin A. “Creating a global artistic language in late renaissance Rome: artists in the service of the overseas missions, 1542-1621”, p.21
- Onn, p. 174
- Carvel, Alexandra. "Nagasaki: an European artistic city in early modern Japan" in Bulletin of Portuguese-Japanese Studies, no. 2 (June 2001), p. 31.
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