Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller are not exactly a known quantity, at least outside the rarified museum world that the Kimbell Art Museum occupies. But we collectively can be very grateful to them as it is from their private collection that the Kimbell has drawn to construct one of its most spectacular of its recent exhibitions: Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection.
A full 140 objects take the Kimbell patron on a time-bending tour back to the epoch of the pugnacious Japanese samurai warrior. What this exhibition instructs is that there was enormous artistry literally emblazoned on the exterior of this war-like armor – a full suit of which might weigh between 20-45 pounds -- all donned by various warlords, shoguns, and other various military standard bearers in Japan from the 12th-19th centuries.
The enormous craftsmanship and design aesthetic behind the Japanese armature (it often incorporated leather, iron, brocade, and semi-precious, and even precious, metals into the basic armor of helmet, mask, chest armor, shoulder guards, sleeves, thigh gear, a skirt, and guards for the shin) reveals so much about Japanese warrior history. Among the numerous highlights of the show are various helmets fabricated from lacquered metal, boasting emblems taken from various natural scenes – all mirroring the status of the wearer, while terrifying his enemy on the battlefield.
Not only will the samurai be displayed in their full regalia, but their loyal steeds will be similarly outfitted. The samurai armor becomes one of the ultimate expressions of Japanese artistry of the time, in addition to reflecting their highly practical thinking of how to ultimately protect the Japanese soldier from the enormous harm that naturally occurs during warfare.
Naturally, one also appreciates how this ornate and, often, spectacular, armor would be admired during various peacetime ceremonies, processions and parades. Whether during the ravages of war, or the calm interlude of peace, it is clear that these suits of armor were both visual works of art, in addition to being necessary equipment offering the ultimate protection during the brutish business of waging war.
Through August 31, 2014. The Kimbell Art Museum, 3333 Camp Bowie Boulevard in Fort Worth. More information: 817-332-8451; www.kimbellart.org.
Image: "Horse Armor, Horse Mask, and Horse Tack," early to mid-Edo period, 17th–18th century, leather, gold, fabric, wood, horsehair, and lacing. Armor of the Tatehagid? Type, early Edo period, 17th century, iron, leather, gold, and fur. Photograph by Brad Flowers. © The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum, Dallas"