For the first time in Europe, the musée du quai Branly presents the exceptional collection of Samurai armor from The Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum, Dallas. The exhibition aims to display the culture, lifestyle and art of the Samurai warrior in Japanese society over almost nine centuries through various types of objects, including full suits of armor, helmets, and full horse armor, used for both battle and ceremonial parades.
The Samurai belonged to the Japanese intellectual elite and practiced disciplines often contrasting with the violence of the art of combat, such as calligraphy, poetry and literature. Their armorers worked as artists creating beautiful pieces, most with delicate details, which were also capable of protecting the Samurai in the most violent of battles.
The armor of the ancient Japanese warriors, particularly lacquered metal helmets adorned with crests often inspired by nature, were designed to express the warrior's status, to distinguish the different Samurai and also to frighten the enemy on the battlefield.
Through over 140 objects – full suits of armor, helmets, weapons, horse armor and accoutrements – the exhibition shows the evolution of the omote dogu – the external appearance and equipment of the Samurai warrior – from the twelfth to nineteenth century, a period that saw the rise and expansion of the fascinating Samurai culture.
- Kamakura period 1185 - 1333
- Nanbokucho period 1333 – 1392
- Muromachi period 1392 – 1573
- Momoyama period 1573 – 1603
- The Tokugawa - Edo period 1603 – 1868
The exhibition path
Two horses in full armor mounted by warriors also dressed in armor dating from the Momoyama period (1573 – 1603) to the Edo period (1603 – 1868) greet the visitors at the entrance to the museum.
The Mori Family en Suite collection
This set of objects belonged to the Mori clan, a family of powerful Daimyo (feudal rulers) with origins dating to the twelfth century. After many conquests, the Mori clan became one of the most powerful clans of Japan. The exhibition features eighteen items from this clan, including a suit of armor, bow and arrows, clothing, weapons and equestrian material. It is very unique and rare to have a set of objects en suite and not assembled from different sources that also belonged to the same family, evidenced by the family’s emblem (mon) on each piece. It illustrates the diverse range of accoutrements a Samurai required, as well as the importance of the aesthetics of the objects. This section will also introduce the role of the Bushido Code in the life of a Samurai.
Early Armor (1185 – 1603)
This section shows the pieces of art from the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333), Nanbokucho (1333 - 1392), Muromachi (1392 - 1573) and Momoyama (1573 - 1603) periods. It traces the development of early armor and is accompanied by a history of Samurai culture including the arrival of the first Westerners to Japan.
The objects presented in this section are the oldest works in the collection. They witness the essence of Samurai culture and serve as an introduction to the construction of and the intricate designs incorporated into the armor.
The Tokugawa - Edo period (1603 - 1868)
The majority of the armor in this section is from this period. The Edo period is divided into 3 sub-periods, early (1603 – 1700), mid-Edo (1700 - 1800), and late Edo (1800 – 1868). The story of the Samurai continues and illustrates the progress in the changes in Samurai culture and the development of armor during a time of relative peace. Pax Tokugawa is also discussed in this section: during this period, without the distraction of war, the creation of the armor was raised to a higher art form with exceptional craftsmanship, imagination and great beauty. These exceptional examples of armor were used during the bi-annual processions which led the major Samurai lords from their domain to Edo.
- Components of an Armor
This sub-section, accompanied by an explanatory diagram, illustrates the multiple pieces that assemble together to create a full armor, gusoku bitsu. To better understand the use and manufacture of each of its elements, there will be a complete armor displayed as separate elements so the viewer can see how they would be attached.
- Types of Armor and Helmets
The suits of armor and helmets of the Samurai took many forms. This section will discuss the various types and explain the differences between them and give an idea of why they were created that way. Each variation had its own concept and use. For example, some types of helmets were made to be worn by lower ranking foot soldiers and some were created for high ranking officials.
- The Samurai Family
This section explores two important concepts of the Samurai family. First, it will address the roles that women had in society. They were vital in running and defending the household but also led as empresses and participated in battle. Second, we learn about what it was like for a boy to be raised in a Samurai home by looking at the Tango no Sekku, the boys’ coming of age festival.
- Spirituality of the Samurai
Elements of mythology and legend are addressed here. Several examples of armor that took inspiration from these areas are presented. For example, there is armor representing Tengu, a birdlike kami spirit that has a protective, yet somewhat mischievous nature. The topic of samurai religion will also be touched on explaining the role of Buddhism and showing examples of its influence on the armor.
- Sea Creatures and Animals in Samurai Armor
These sub-sections include objects inspired by the creatures of land and sea. This collection of pieces evokes a particularly spectacular underwater world, which illustrates the strong identification Japan has with the sea due to its insularity.
- Nanban Armor, Foreign Influence
Nanban means “barbarians of the south” and refers to the European sailors’ point of arrival in Japan. The objects in this sub-section show the assimilation of styles introduced by these other cultures in Samurai armor. The first Western contact was made in 1541, and influence from the styles of Western armor had an impact on Japanese armor for decades to come. Several examples of armor with assimilated Western styles, particularly Portuguese, Italian and Dutch, are shown here.
- School and Artists
The visitor is introduced to four different artists of Samurai armor. They will learn when signatures started to appear on certain pieces of armor and how better known artists or distinctive regional differences emerged. This section also examines the different schools, or workshops, where armors were produced. Found in various provinces of Japan, each school created armor that had unique characteristics and sometimes were in existence for several centuries.
The Art of Battle
The Samurai were masters of war who fashioned clever and effective weapons and armor that provided protection and enabled success in battle. The pieces were designed with equal attention to both their function and form displaying an extraordinary level of creativity and craftsmanship. Several types of weaponry are displayed, including swords and archery equipment. An explanation is given on how the Samurai used these items in conjunction with refined battle tactics to defeat their enemies.
The Samurai Horse
The collection includes various components of equestrian accoutrement, including horse armor, saddles, and very sculptural bamen masks (chanffron or head protection for the horse). This section aims to explore the role occupied by the horse in the world of the warriors and also relates to major battles of the Samurai. A lifesize horse and Samurai rider will be shown in full armor.
Daimyo – Ruling Lords
This section explores how Japan was divided among Daimyo families who ruled in the era of the Samurai. In Japanese, Daimyo means ‘the great name’. The finest and most expensive armors were created for these powerful lords who were ranked in relation to their domain’s rice production capability (measured in koku). Their armor is displayed in this section and visitors will experience the majesty of their presence.