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First contacts with China on display at Museu do Oriente

An exhibition on the journey of three Portuguese who made the first diplomatic contacts between Europe and China between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries is inaugurated today at the Museu do Oriente in Lisbon.

“Three European Embassies to China” is the title of this exhibition divided into three nuclei, dedicated to the representatives of the Portuguese State Tomé Pires and Francisco Pacheco de Sampaio, and the one of the Pope, the Franciscan Lourenço of Portugal.

The exhibition includes 70 pieces from private collections, from institutions such as the Vatican Secret Archives, Torre do Tombo, the National Library and the Pharmacy Museum, among others, and from the Foundation’s own estate.

For example, the papal bull of 1245 – original document from Torre do Tombo – with the appointment of Frei Lourenço of Portugal as ambassador to the Mongol Empire by Pope Innocent IV, is shown.

Also, according to the Museum of the East, for the first time in Portugal, Emperor Qianlong’s letter to King Joseph I, dated 1753, four meters long and written in three languages: Manchu, Portuguese and Chinese will be shown.

The nucleus dedicated to Friar Lourenço de Portugal named an ambassador to the Mongol Empire by Pope Innocent IV in 1245, underlines the fact that this is an embassy organized by the Vatican in political representation throughout Europe.

Noting this fact, there are two papal bulls, one of them in an original document coming from Torre do Tombo, which dates back to 1245 and the other a reproduction of the Vatican Secret Archives.

Also included in this nucleus are a set of luxury Islamic objects from the south of Portugal – a part of which is produced in the Middle and Near East – but identical to those found throughout the Indian Ocean, to illustrate the global circulation of goods and people in the century XIII.

Dedicated to Tomé Pires and his embassy to China in 1517 – the first official diplomatic mission of a European nation to the Ming dynasty -, the second nucleus addresses the path of this apothecary and pharmacist, author of the “Oriental Sum”, the first and most complete 16th century European description of Asia, whose manuscript can be seen at the exhibition.

The third nucleus centres on the embassy of Francisco Pacheco de Sampaio to Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty in 1752, at a time considered delicate for Portuguese interests in Macao and China.

Also exhibited in this nucleus are pieces of Chinese art from the 18th century, including a punch with images from the Cantão factories, belonging to the “Ancient Collection Cunha Alves”, recently acquired by Fundação Oriente.

The exhibition, curated by Jorge Santos Alves, professor and coordinator of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Portuguese Catholic University, opens at 6:30 p.m., and will be open until April 21, 2019.

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