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A rare and fine Japanese six-fold gold-leaf screen with the depiction of Commodore Matthew Perry’s flag ship the USS Mississippi

Early Bakumatsu period (1853-1867)

H. 61 x W. 183 cm


Private collection, USA

On 8 July 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry with his paddle-wheel warships USS Mississippi and Susquehanna, and two sloops, with a total of 65 guns and little less than 1000 man, for the first time arrived in the harbour of Shimoda, in the bay of Edo, in his own words, “to open doors of commerce, and spread civilization to a backward people, and also to spread the Gospel of God to the heathen.” In Japanese parlance, the American ships quickly became known as “black ships,” depicted as demonic

monsters. For the Japanese, these huge coal-burning ships with black hulls and belching black smoke out of their funnels probably were Darkness Incarnate. In the present Japanese depiction of Perry’s ship not only the hull and the smoke are pitch black, but also the figurehead on the bow is a leering monster, the portholes high in the stern glow like eyes of an apparition, the ship’s sides bristle with rows of cannon, and gunfire streaks like a searchlight from guns at both sides of the ship.

Perry remained in the Edo Bay until the Japanese accepted an official letter by President Millard Fillmore. In 1854 Perry returned with a fleet of nine ships on his flagship Mississippi and remained in Edo Bay as part of his show of force until the signing of the Convention of Kanagawa on 31 March 1854.

In 1841 the USS Mississippi, built under the personal supervision of Perry, was launched and became Perry’s first steam-driven frigate and flagship. She was involved in many US Navy operations until she ran aground and was destroyed in 1863 during an attack against Port Hudson, Louisiana, during the American Civil War.


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