Focus on the Peck Collection: Japanese Emissaries in Sixteenth-Century Europe

July 7, 2022 - October 16, 2022

In 1585, a delegation of four Christian Japanese boys from the island of Kyushu arrived in Europe to meet some of the most important political and religious figures of the period, chief among them King Philip II of Spain and popes Gregory XIII and Sixtus V. Known as The Boys’ Embassy of the Tenshō Period, the voyage promoted the Jesuit order’s missionary activities in Japan on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. The boys were treated as distinguished visitors, honored with banquets and festivals in Portugal, Spain, and Italy.

Eighty years after this historic event, Flemish painter Abraham van Diepenbeeck created a drawing of a specific aspect of the trip—the encounter between The Boys’ Embassy and King Phillip II of Spain. This Focus on the Peck Collectioninstallation presents Van Diepenbeeck’s drawing alongside the engraving based on it, published in the 1667 book Kerckelycke historie van de gheheele wereldt (The Ecclesiastical History of the Whole World). Dedicated to the history of the Church’s missionary activities, the richly illustrated book became a standard resource for many Europeans to learn about distant cultures, including Japan.



In January 2017, the Ackland Art Museum received its largest gift to date when Sheldon Peck (UNC-Chapel Hill, BS ’63, DDS ’66) and his wife Leena donated their extraordinary collection of 134 mostly 17th-century Dutch and Flemish master drawings, as well as significant funds for the stewardship of the collection, new acquisitions, and an endowed curatorial position in European and American art before 1950. At least one example from the collection is always on view at the Museum, but because these works of art on paper are light-sensitive, we rotate a select number of drawings with other objects from our permanent collection in an ongoing display called Focus on the Peck Collection. Click below to see past installations.

Focus on the Peck Collection installations


About Sheldon and Leena Peck

Sheldon Peck, a native of Durham, North Carolina, is a double alumnus of the University, receiving his undergraduate degree from Carolina in 1963 and his doctorate from the UNC School of Dentistry in 1966. He and Leena enjoyed distinguished careers as prominent orthodontic specialists and educators in the Boston area.

The Peck Collection started as a collaboration between Sheldon and his late brother Harvey and continued as a joint interest shared with Leena. The result of over 40 years of exceptional connoisseurship, scientifically rigorous analysis, and dedicated pursuit, the Peck Collection stands as an internationally significant achievement. Sadly, Leena Peck passed away in January of 2019, and Sheldon Peck in April of 2021.


Resource Links
Podcast – “Well Said: The Peck Collection”
Video – A Transformational Gift of Art
Video – “The Art and Science of Collecting the Old Masters,” A Talk by Dr. Sheldon Peck, UNC-Chapel Hill, 21 May 2017
UNC Press Release – Gift of The Peck Collection
Legacy Website – Images and Scholarly Information on a Portion of The Peck Collection
Complete Illustrated List of Works in The Peck Collection at the Ackland

Image caption: Abraham van Diepenbeeck, Flemish, 1596-1675, King Phillip II of Spain Receiving the Japanese Delegation in Madrid, c. 1667, black chalk, gray and brown washes with white highlights on paper, 11 ¼ x 7 3/16 in. (28.6 x 18.3 cm). Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Peck Collection, 2017.1.121.