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'Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection' on view at LACMA
Ridged Helmet with Large Rivets, Mid-Edo Period, c. 1730. Iron, gold, silver, bronze, shakudo, and leather. Photo: Brad Flowers. ©The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum, Dallas.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibits two shows exploring the subject of samurai art this fall. In October, LACMA presents the Southern California premiere of Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection , a major presentation of battle gear worn by samurai from the 12th through the 19th centuries. Examining the evolution of samurai accoutrements through the centuries, this exhibition features more than 140 objects of warrior regalia, including eighteen full suits of armor, elaborate helmets and face guards, and life-size horse-clad armors. Objects in Samurai come from The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum: The Samurai Collection, one of the most comprehensive private holdings of samurai armor in the world encompassing several hundred pieces and spanning ten centuries.

"When we think about the figure of the warrior throughout history, there are few more iconic representations than the samurai of Japan," said Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director. "The Samurai Collection assembled by Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller is truly exceptional, and we are so glad to be able to share these incredible objects with Los Angeles."

A complementary exhibition to the samurai armor show will be on view at the Pavilion for Japanese Art starting in November. Art of the Samurai: Swords, Paintings, Prints, and Textiles showcases samurai swords and examines the warrior lifestyle. In the Helen and Felix Juda Gallery a presentation of swords, sword fittings, and other weaponry from local collections will be on display. From the LACMA collection, an array of color woodblock prints depicting warriors in battle will be on view as well as a selection of garments worn by samurai and their wives. Battle screens and paintings made for the samurai will also be on view. Art of the Samurai is co-curated by Robert T. Singer, Curator and Department Head of Japanese Art, LACMA; Japanese samurai art specialists Mike Yamasaki, Darin S. Furukawa, and Gary Yoshino; and Sharon S. Takeda, Senior Curator and Department Head of Costume and Textiles, LACMA.

"The occasion of Samurai presented an opportunity to put the armor in the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection in broader context," said Robert T. Singer. "Through the display of swords, garments, prints, paintings, and other historical objects from local private collections as well as LACMA's holdings, Art of the Samurai , in the Pavilion for Japanese Art, is intended to enhance and amplify the spectacular samurai armor on view in the Resnick Pavilion."

Japan ended its policy of mandatory military service in 792 and provincial landowners had to rely on their own private forces for defense, giving rise to the samurai class. For nearly 700 years, beginning in 1185, Japan was governed by a military government, led by the shogun, ruling in the name of the emperor. Samurai warriors were loyal to individual daimy ō—provincial lords with large hereditary land holdings. In 1600, after periods of clashes between rival clans, the Battle of Sekigahara paved the way for Tokugawa Ieyasu to unify Japan and establish a new shogunate. Fifteen shogun from the Tokugawa family ruled over a period of peace lasting some 250 years. During the subsequent Meiji Restoration in 1868, the emperor reasserted his authority as supreme ruler, and the samurai as an official elite class was dissolved.

The term “samurai” comes from the verb saburafu , which means “to serve by one’s side.” Initially, samurai were armed servants; later, they became experts in warfare. Samurai armor consists of a helmet ( kabuto) , mask ( menpō), and chest armor (dō) combined with shoulder guards, sleeves, a skirt, thigh protection, and shin guards. Additional articles, including a sleeveless surcoat ( jinbaori), complete the set, which might weigh between 20 and 45 pounds in total. Many materials were required to produce a suit of Japanese armor that was as beautiful as it was functional. Iron, leather, brocade, and precious and semiprecious metals were often used. Several artisans worked for many months to create a single samurai suit of armor.

During the periods covered in both exhibitions, arms and armor were needed in unprecedented quantities as warfare evolved from small-scale combats between equestrian archers to vast armies of infantry using swords, spears, and guns. Craftsmen responded to this need with armor that was both functional and aesthetically detailed, a celebration of the warrior’s prowess. Even after 1615, when the Tokugawa military dictatorship brought an end to battle, samurai families continued to commission splendid arms and armor for ceremonial purposes. Because the social rank, income, and prestige of a samurai family were determined by the battlefield valor of their ancestors, armor embodied an elite warrior family’s heritage.

Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection features both practical armor used from the Kamakura (1185—1333) through the Momoyama (1573—1615) periods as well as the largely ceremonial objects of the Edo period (1615—1868). Highlights include:

The Armor of the Tatehagid ō Type , shown with horse armor ( bagai ), a horse mask ( bamen ), and horse tack ( bagu ). Before the 17th century, samurai horses did not wear armor. However, horse armor symbolized the prestige and power of their owners during ceremonies that paid tribute to high-ranking leaders or marked special occasions.

Exquisitely decorated helmets, such as the Flame Helmet Representing the Flaming Jewel, were created in fanciful shapes and adorned with embellishments, including horns, family crests, feathers, and Buddhist symbols.

The Armor of the Okegawad ō Type is one of three suits of armor in the exhibition that illustrate how armor became increasingly decorative during the 250 years of peace that marked the end of samurai dominance. This armor features three six-foot-tall gilt accessories that served as battle standards, capturing the high drama of the fully outfitted samurai warrior in all of his glory.

In Art of the Samurai : Swords, Paintings, Prints, and Textiles, highlights include Battle of Ichinotani and Battles of Dan-no-ura and Yashima , a 17th -century six-panel screen depicting historic battles through an immense array of warriors, samurai, garb, and weaponry; as well as Snow, Moon, Flower Calligraphy, a set of three hanging scrolls made by a leading member of the ruling Tokugawa Shogun family of Japan, one of the finest examples of masculine samurai calligraphy.

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