Art of the Samurai
This fall, Scholten Japanese Art proudly presents a collection of Japanese armor, helmets, clothing, sword guards (tsuba), and other fine works of art relating to the samurai. As collections of Japanese armor and art of the samurai are rarely seen outside of museums, this exhibition will surely arouse the historian in all of us.
Throughout the thousand years during which armor was worn in Japan a bewildering variety of types and designs evolved. Armorers were commissioned to produce lavish armors, often in ancient styles, for those of high rank, while humble retainers were provided with simpler equipment. Armor remained important up until the second half of the 19th century, although not necessarily for its utilitarian purpose (as there had been relative peace over 200 years), but as symbols of wealth and station in life.
One of the earliest suits of armor on display at Scholten Japanese Art is a late Momoyama period, 17th century, suit of armor with an iron cuirass (do), purple and red silk-lacquer lacing, and a sharply pointed helmet with lateral crests rising in a braided arch of carved wood and covered in gold leaf. Accompanying the armor is an unusual sashimono 2.6m high in the form of three hawk feathers, in brown, black, and gold lacquer on washi (Japanese paper), held together with bamboo.
Innovative craftsmanship can also be seen in a group of helmets on exhibition. One piece of unusual styling and construction is a rare 18th century helmet (kawari kabuto) in the form of a shigami, a ferocious, mythical horned beast. Incised lines indicating the beast's fur, piercing eyes, and fangs are highlighted in both high-relief (takamaki-e) and low-relief (hiramaki-e) lacquer with enormous projecting antlers made of wood and gold leaf.
On display are also a wide array of sword guards (tsuba) which were among the prized possessions of the samurai. Many of the designs were highly stylized renditions of classical motifs, such as zodiac animals, heroic tales, or poetic references to the seasons.
Also on exhibition are a few selected garments including a daimyo (war-lord) quality doeskin riding-jacket and trousers, as well as the haori coats of Japan's 18-19th century firemen. All of these garments exemplify the subtle chicness (iki) that men strived for in the day.
In addition to works of art used in the daily life of the samurai, on exhibition are fine objects depicting the warrior himself in narrative picture scrolls, screens, woodblock prints, and lacquer. Of mention is a magnificent lacquer writing box (suzuribako) by Segawa Shoryu, the top lacquerware artist in Meiji (1868-1912) Japan, depicting the Battle at Uji Bridge during the Genpei wars. This box was exhibited in Kindai no urushigei (Modern Lacquerware) at the Ishikawa Wajima Art Museum in 1997.
Scholten Japanese Art is open Tuesday through Saturday 11am to 5pm, by appointment. To schedule an appointment please call 212.585.0474.