Travel’s Influence on Samurai Adornment

Dec 2013

I am constantly amazed by what artisans throughout history have been able to create without the use of modern day tools.  These photos from my visit to the recent Samurai exhibit at the MFA in Boston allow you to travel back in time.  It was a remarkable display that brought together the themes of travel, craft and culture and gave much insight into the world of the Shogun and their military elite from the 12th thru 19th centuries.  The exhibit was breathtaking, a collection from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection that has to be one of the most comprehensive in the world.  Capturing the eternal warrior spirit and high quality artistry, these are some of the highlights.

These seemingly impenetrable suits of armor, were remarkably flexible because of a unique construction.  All of this metal was woven together with laces either gold or colored.  While they looked like silk, I’m sure it was something stronger, but it left beautiful pattern on each and every piece.

What I found most interesting was the meticulous design and craftsmanship  linking the centuries of design together. The influence of trade and travel on the design of the helmets really caught my eye. Look at the adornmant on this headpiece.

The Flaming Jewel was represented in the shape of this design.  From the early Edo period in the 1600’s, the precise design appears to have been cut with a machine laser tool.  The combination of metal colors was especially effective.

The silver appliqué on the design above represent mythical creatures.  Tradition is combined with the influence of a Spanish or Portuguese crested morion helmets.

European helmets designed with a local flair are found throughout the exhibit.  Japanese warriors were heavily influenced by Buddhism, reflected in the adornment.  I love the half moon patterning of the silver on iron.

The Portuguese cabasset helmet has has played a part in the design of this helmet made out of a single sheet of metal. The embellishment of a lion and peony are symbols of imperial power found in 17th century Japan.

The style of this mid 18th century hat is inspired by a traditional Korean hat known as a gat.  In an effort to imitate the Western style, inside is a brocade lining and the top is decorated with dragon motif and family crest.

One day each year, the 11th day of the first month to be more precise, this armor was displayed in the shain, or area of a residence where guests were received.  In this context, the armor was viewed as not just objects of protection, but great beauty and workmanship as well as symbols of power.  The distinctive equipment of the Samurai certainly could be seen as intimidating and threatening in nature, but taken for its raw beauty and craftsmanship, it was a sight to behold.