Suit of Samurai Armor

The art of the armorer in Japan has been alive for over a thousand years. Body armor dating from the fourth to the eighth centuries was of rigid plate construction. During the fifth and sixth centuries, contact with China and Korea resulted in a considerable importation of goods and culture, including the adoption of lamellar (layered) armor. The Japanese quickly adapted and revised armor styles to correspond to the needs of a warrior culture that eventually became identified with the samurai, a term that means “to serve,” the Japanese equivalent of a feudal knight culture.

By the tenth century, styles of armor unique to the Japanese consisted primarily of small overlapping plates of lacquered metal or hardened leather secured by silk cords. This armor was both flexible and relatively light-weight; an entire suit of armor might not weigh more than 35 pounds. By comparison, contemporary suits of European armor weighing 85 – 110 pounds severely limited mobility and the ability to get up and fight once thrown from a horse.

By the fifteenth century, the country was engaged in civil wars that were often fought in the streets of Kyoto and other major cities. Light-weight form-fitting armor, of a style previously worn by footmen, was adopted by samurai because of its practicality for fighting on foot. This form of armor is generically known as gusoku (“complete set” or modern) armor, and is the predominant form of armor produced from the sixteenth century until the 1860s.

This suit is a tokubetsu (excellent grade) complete original suit of 18th century date, accompanied by certification papers. The helmet and face mask give a feeling of ferocity and individuality to the suit.

Image Credits: Suit of Samurai Armor in Tokubetsu (excellent) grade lacquered leather, metal, silk, and horsehair. Japanese, 18th century. Asian Arts Council purchase.

Double Magnolia Vase

For 5000 years, the Chinese have revered jade as a symbol of benevolence, loyalty, purity and endurance. The double-vase form is an auspicious symbol of marital happiness in China, as is the magnolia flower, a symbol of purity. The artist gracefully detailed the magnolia’s delicate stems and elongated blooms, even on the bottom of the vase. Veined leaves and overhanging petals demonstrate an attention to botanical realism, a characteristic of the late Qing period.

Image Credits: Double Magnolia Vase, nephrite jade. Chinese, Qing dynasty, 18th-19th Centuries. Museum purchase with funds provided by Asian Arts Council.

Portrait of a Lama

This sculpture is a portrait of Chos-kyi-rGal-mTshan, the Tibetan Panchen Lama who lived from 1570 to 1662 and was the teacher of the Fifth Dalai Lama. The second most important lama in Tibet after the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama is an incarnation of Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of immeasurable splendor.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the lineages of the Panchen and Dalai Lamas are determined by reincarnation. Each incarnation is a flesh-and-blood male who is the physical manifestation of a Buddha or Bodhisattva, whose spirit is embodied in the person of the Lama at the moment of his birth and will pass to another child upon his death. A search is then conducted to find the new incarnation, who must pass a series of tests to verify his identity. Each new incarnation of the Panchen Lama undergoes many years of spiritual instruction before assuming his official position at the age of eighteen.

In this image, which radiates an aura of calm and introspection, the Panchen Lama is seated in a pose of meditation. He is dressed in the garb of a monk and holds an alms bowl in one hand while raising the other in the teaching gesture. The Lama’s large ears and hands are the traditional Buddhist signs of extraordinary wisdom and compassion.

Image Credits: Portrait of a Lama, 
gilt bronze. Tibetan / Chinese, 18th century. Inscribed on back: Chos-kyi-rGal-mTshan. Gift of William Henry Storms.

About The Asian Collection

The Art of Asia galleries explore both common themes and unique qualities in the arts of diverse Asian cultures, including Tibet, Nepal, India, China, Japan, Sri Lanka and Java. On view are archaeological material (including the Museum collection’s oldest object), stunning sculptures carved from jade, a Chinese scholar’s studio with a “scholar’s rock”, and a Japanese tokonoma alcove and samurai armor. This collection also presents cross-cultural comparisons between Asian cultures as well as between Asia and Europe through examples of painting, religious art and porcelain trade.

We encourage you to visit often as many works in the Art of Asia Gallery (scrolls, screens, woodblock prints, textiles) change every 4-6 months to protect them from extended exposure to light.

Current Exhibitions

The Resonance Of Clay Art of Asia Gallery Monday, May 5, 2014 - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Quiet Rage, Gentle Wail Lyon Gallery Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sacred Stories and Images of the Buddha Art of Asia Gallery Saturday, September 20, 2014 - Sunday, March 8, 2015

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Past Exhibitions

Hidden Meanings of Love and Death in Chinese Painting Orme Lewis Gallery & Asian Galleries Saturday, April 27, 2013 - Sunday, September 8, 2013

Visions of Humanity Orme Lewis Gallery Saturday, December 15, 2012 - Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sacred Word and Image Orme Lewis Gallery Wednesday, January 4, 2012 - Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sumatra Lewis Gallery Saturday, February 13, 2010 - Sunday, August 8, 2010

When Gold Blossoms Orme Lewis Gallery Saturday, February 16, 2008 - Sunday, May 11, 2008

Demonic Divine in Himalayan Art Art of Asia & Graphic Galleries Saturday, September 23, 2006 - Sunday, December 17, 2006

Secret World of the Forbidden City South Wing Saturday, November 10, 2001 - Sunday, April 7, 2002

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