Samurai! The Art Of The Japanese Warrior Comes To Boston

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is showcasing a large collection of samurai armor and art from one of the world’s leading private collections.

Samurai! Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection” opens this Sunday, April 14, and features more than 140 objects, such as this horse and rider. Visitors will learn about the complex typology of these elegant suits and how they developed over time. For example, this horse armor (bagai), horse mask (bamen) and horse tack (bagu) date from the early to mid-Edo period, 17th–18th century. They’re made of leather, gold, fabric, wood, horsehair and lacing. The armor is of the tatehagidō type and dates to the 17th century. It’s made of iron, leather, gold and fur.

Beside numerous suits of armor for men and horses, there are also weapons, military equipment and brilliant silk screens showing samurai in battle. The helmets are especially diverse and were used to show off the wearer’s status and individual identity, and as a way to put fear into the hearts of the enemy.

What’s remarkable about some of these suits of armor is that they were made long after the heyday of the samurai had finished, but Japan’s wealthy elite still hearkened back to the age when their ancestors fought in armor such as this. Europe, of course, went through a similar process of glorifying the medieval knights.

“Samurai! Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection” runs through August 4.

Photograph by Brad Flowers. © The Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum, Dallas. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Roman Cavalry Helmet To Be Star Attraction At Royal Academy Exhibition

A new exhibition at the Royal Academy in London will feature one of Britain’s most stunning archaeological discoveries of the past few years.

Back in 2010, a metal detectorist found this brass helmet in a field in Cumbria, northern England. It dates from the first to third centuries A.D. and is one of a few rare ornate cavalry helmets dating to the Roman period. These helmets were worn for tournaments and parades rather than battle.

Now it will be part of “Bronze,” an exhibition of works made of bronze or brass from the prehistoric period to the present day. More than 150 works from Africa, Asia, and Europe are organized into themes such as the human figure, animals, groups, objects, reliefs, heads and busts, and gods. Examples come from such widely different cultures as ancient Greece, Etruria, Benin, Renaissance Italy, and modern Europe.

To learn more about these helmets, check out this page on Roman parade helmets and this page on more standard-issue Roman cavalry helmets.

Bronze runs from September 15 to December 9.

[Photo courtesy Daniel Pett]

Museum Junkie: The Art of the Samurai at the Met

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.