From the 12th to the 19th centuries, Japanese society was dominated by the samurai, elite warriors with a fierce code of honor. While wars were almost constant on the islands during this period, it was also a time of great artistic achievement, one that extended to the weapons and equipment of the samurai.
Starting on October 21, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City will host the largest collection of samurai artifacts ever assembled in the United States.
Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor 1156-1868 brings together more than 200 masterpieces of traditional Japanese art, including swords, bows, armor, banners, and other equipment selected from public and private Japanese collections. Many of the items are not only beautiful but unusual, such as the rare example of 18th century woman’s armor pictured here. Also included are a series of Japanese sword blades that, despite the name of the exhibition, date as far back as the 5th century. An accompanying exhibition displays some related objects from the Met’s permanent collection that have been recently restored in Japan.
The exhibition includes 34 National Treasures, 64 Important Cultural Properties, and 6 Important Art Objects. The Japanese government has a hierarchy of designations for important objects. The most precious are labeled National Treasures, and this exhibition has three times the number of National Treasures of any previous exhibition outside of Japan. National Treasures can include buildings, objects, even artists. That so many of these one-of-a-kind objects have made it to New York is a major coup for the Met. You’d have to go to Japan to see a finer collection of samurai arms and armor.
The show runs to January 10.