Samurai, a term that roughly translates as “those who serve,” refers to the legendary warrior class that played an important role in Japanese politics and society from the late eighth century until the mid-nineteenth century. Shōguns, or supreme military leaders, governed Japan as de facto rulers until 1867 when the military government was abolished and the emperor returned to power. The values emphasized by the samurai included loyalty, courage, honor, and personal cultivation, and profoundly affected the art, craft, and design produced during this long era.
Featuring more than ninety objects ranging in date from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries, this dynamic exhibition showcases the life of these warriors and investigates their moral, cultural and aesthetic codes. With a selection of nine full suits of armor, twelve expressive helmets (kabuto), numerous decorated swords (katana) and sword fittings, along with beautiful standing screens and lacquer wares, Samurai: The Way of the Warrior celebrates the exemplary artistry and highly skilled craftsmanship of medieval and early modern Japanese artisans. Other highlights include a seventeenth-century riding saddle inlaid with intricate mother-of-pearl and a sumptuous chair covered in silk brocade, gold and silver. The exhibition also demonstrates how seasonal and animal motifs carried symbolic significance and marked individual owners’ identity, taste and status.
The objects in Samurai: The Way of the Warrior are drawn from the rich holdings of the Museo Stibbert, a museum primarily devoted to arms and armor in Florence, Italy. The Stibbert’s Japanese collection is considered one of the largest and most important outside of Japan.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.