The Shogun’s Silver Telescope: Art in the First English Encounters with Japan, 1611-1616. 

Presented by Timon Screech as part of the Sydney Asian Art Series at the University of Sydney in 2018.



In 1611, the East India Company in London planned a voyage to Japan, hoping finally to read that rich and fabled land. An appropriate gift was selected for the Japanese ruler, and when one of the ships duly arrived in 1613, Tokugawa Ieyasu was presented with a large, silver-gilt telescope, in the name of King James. It was the first telescope ever to leave Europe and the first built as a presentation object. Before news of this success was reported home, the English sent another ship, this time loaded with oil paintings and prints.

Screech’s talk investigates the reasons for the Company’s interest in Japan, for the selection of these unexpected items, and for their impact in Japan.



Timon Screech is a professor of the history of art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He is a specialist in the art and culture of early modern Japan. In 1985, Timon Screech received a BA in Oriental Studies (Japanese) at the University of Oxford. In 1991, he completed his PhD in art history at Harvard University, since which he has been at SOAS; and he has also been visiting professor at the Universities of Chicago and Heidelberg, and guest researcher at Gakushuin and Waseda universities in Tokyo. He had recently completed a book on the early history of the English East India Company, and its first sailings to Japan (1613–26), and is now writing the Oxford History of Japanese Art.


Presented by

The Sydney Asian Art Series is presented by the University of Sydney’s China Studies Centre, The Power Institute, and VisAsia, with support from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Sydney Ideas.