Samurai! Exhibit Opens at the MFA

Armor of the nimaitachidō type, Mid-Edo period, 18th century Photograph by Brad Flowers. © The Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum, Dallas Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Armor of the nimaitachidō type, Mid-Edo period, 18th century
Photograph by Brad Flowers. © The Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum, Dallas
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

A new exhibit exploring the awe-inspiring armor of Japan’s samurai warriors opens today at the Museum of Fine Arts. On display until August 4, the exhibit is drawn from the private collection of Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller. The samurai were a class of military elites led by warlords, or shoguns, between the 12th and 19th centuries. During the earlier part of this period, clashes between clans were common. Towards the end of the period, Japan was united, however the samurai retained an important ceremonial stature even in times of peace.

This exhibit showcases the delicate artistry of samurai armor, from the helmets and masks to the shin guards. Made of metal, lacquer, paper, fur, leather, and fabric, these items protected the wearer but were also imbued with layers of symbolic meaning. Family symbols and illusions to gods are woven throughout the designs, which also served to identify each warrior on the chaotic battlefield. Scars from bullets and blades serve as a reminder that as beautiful as they may be, they were made for war. The product of immense work, the portions of a samurai’s wardrobe to survive the tests of time were passed down through the generations.

The drama of these ensembles are made clear in an installation of three armored figures mounted on armored fiberglass horses. This intimidating scene makes it easy to understand how the samurai regalia could inspire fear in their enemies. I am glad I will never meet samurai in battle, but instead am able to admire the beauty and workmanship of their armor through this fascinating exhibit.

Samurai!, April 14-August 4. MFA, Avenue of the Arts at 465 Huntington Avenue. Open Saturday-Tuesday, 10am – 4:45pm; Wednesday- Friday, 10am – 9:45pm. Admission (includes repeat visit within 10 days) is $25 for adults, $23 for seniors and students, and free for 17 and younger weekdays after 3pm and weekends (otherwise $10). Wednesday nights after 4pm admission is by contribution. For more information, visit the MFA website.

 

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