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Painting of 16th century pope meeting with Japanese delegates discovered in Rome

Part of the 19th century fresco painting depicting the meeting of Pope Gregory XIII and the Tensho embassy members is seen under the roof of the home of Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi in Rome. (Photo courtesy of Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi)

ROME -- A 19th century fresco painting depicting a scene where a Japanese delegation meets with Pope Gregory XIII in 1585 has been discovered here at the home of the then Catholic Church leader's descendant.

    The delegation is commonly known as the "Tensho embassy," a group of Japanese emissaries sent by a Christian daimyo in the Kyushu region to Rome in 1582.

    Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi, left, and his wife Rita pose in front of a portrait of Pope Gregory XIII on Aug. 11, 2016. (Mainichi)

    Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi, 75, who lives at this Rome villa, welcomed the discovery, saying that the meeting between the pope and the Japanese delegation was an important event for his family and that he hopes this discovery will strengthen friendship with the Japanese people.

    Italian painter Pietro Gagliardi (1809-1890) painted the mural painting on the ceiling of the dining hall upon a request from the Ludovisi family when the villa went through extension work in the mid-19th century. But the painting has been covered by a new ceiling since the early 20th century when the dining hall was renovated into a bedroom and wardrobe.

    In 2012, New Jersey-based Rutgers University associate professor Corey Brennan, who has been studying antique documents related to the Ludovisi family, found a black and white photo of the whole image of the fresco painting taken in the early 20th century. Brennan confirmed the painting under the roof in June this year.

    The painting depicts Pope Gregory XIII kissing a person believed to be delegation leader Mancio Ito on the forehead while men believed to be Miguel Chijiwa and Martinho Hara stand by. The ceiling is set to be removed as early as this fall and the painting is planned to be opened to the public.

    Mayu Fujikawa, a researcher at European University Institute, said, "The fresco was probably painted shortly after Japan opened itself to foreign trade and diplomacy in 1854. I guess the pope's descendants wanted to leave a record that Gregory XIII helped establish Japan-Europe relations. The pigtail hair depicted in the painting shows how Japanese culture was understood."

    A photo of the 19th century fresco painting depicting the meeting of Pope Gregory XIII and the Tensho embassy members. (Photo courtesy of Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi)

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