Samurai Armor from the Collection of Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller features one of the most important collections of samurai armor outside of Japan. Through a dazzling array of more than one hundred fifty helmets, swords, and other objects spanning almost nine centuries, including nearly twenty complete sets of armor, the exhibition will illuminate the exceptionally high level of design and craft dedicated to these elaborate instruments of ceremony and combat. These objects reveal the culture, lifestyle, and artistic legacy associated with the samurai warrior in Japanese society. The High is the first museum in the Southeastern United States to present this exhibition, which has traveled to cities around the world.
About the Collectors
It is the combination of art and armor, the boundless creativity of the objects’ forms, and the aesthetics used by these fierce and cultivated warriors that drew us in.
—Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller
Gabriel Barbier-Mueller has been fascinated by samurai armor since adolescence and acquired his first piece in the early 1990s. He and his wife, Ann, have continued to expand their collection, admiring the sculptural quality of the objects and the compelling imagination required to create them. This fascination led them to create The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum: The Samurai Collection, in Dallas, Texas.
The Barbier-Muellers have assembled an exceptional collection consisting of more than one thousand objects, including a number of unique masterpieces. This exhibition, which represents only a fraction of their remarkable holdings, grows from the collectors’ wish to share these works and the samurai culture from which they emerged.
Armor of the Nimaitachidō Type
Attributed to Myōchin Yoshimichi (helmet); attributed to Myōchin Munenori (armor)
Muromachi period, ca. 1400 (helmet); mid-Edo period, eighteenth century (armor)
Iron, gold and copper alloy (shakudō), silver, bronze, wood, gold, brocade, lacing, fur, and leather
The hollyhock is a family crest (mon), which can be found on all components of this daimyo armor and is perhaps most easily seen on the top of the hand guard. At the front of the helmet, an openwork attachment with carved chrysanthemum holds two stylized, gilded bronze horns and a frontal ornament in the shape of a lion (shishi) in lacquered wood. The thigh protectors and shin guards are adorned with shishi and peonies, both symbols of imperial authority. The sleeves are decorated with an attribute of the Buddhist deity of wisdom, Fudō Myōō, a dragon coiling around a double-edged sword. The fans, one flat and one folding, were used by a commander to signal troops in battle.
Armor of the Yokohagidō Type
Nanbokuchō period, 1333–1392 (helmet); mid-Edo period, eighteenth century (suit)
Iron, gold and copper alloy (shakudō), gold, silver, lacing, fur, silk, lacquer, leather, bronze, and wood
For seven centuries, the samurai ruled Japan. Starting in the late twelfth century, when powerful families seized control, the warrior class known as samurai (“those who serve”) alternately fought for power or enforced peace. During the era of the shogunate, power resided not at the imperial court but with the supreme military commander, the shogun.
The samurai lived by a code that valued honor, loyalty, bravery, and willingness to die. Theirs was a culture of fearsome contradictions: expert archers and swordsmen, they were also poets and scholars who were schooled in literature and the arts. They were subordinate to their individual daimyo, who oversaw many Japanese provinces. This suit of armor belonged to a daimyo. The shogun and daimyo, who comprised the governing military nobility, were also “samurai,” as the term came to denote skilled, educated, and refined warriors.
Armor of the Mogamidō Type
Signed by Myōchin Muneharu, mid-Edo period (helmet); signed by Myōchin Muneyoshi, 1849 (chest armor)
Edo period, seventeenth–nineteenth century (mask); 1849 (torso armor)
Iron, gold, bronze, silk, leather, and lacquer
Mogamidō-type armor featured a chest piece made of horizontal plates held together by widely spaced parallel lacing. This one bears the names of two blacksmiths from the Myōchin school. It is a typical example of armor handed down from one generation to the next to which new pieces were added. For this set, the owner of the signed chest armor probably called upon another armorer to make the missing pieces. The artist who crafted the helmet, Myōchin Muneharu, is known for creating a suit of armor that was a diplomatic gift from a Tokugawa shogun to Queen Victoria.
Armor of the Mogamidō Type
Signed by Hōrai Kunichika (helmet); signed by Myōchin Muneaki (mask)
Muromachi period, ca. 1530 (helmet); early to mid-Edo period, seventeenth–eighteenth century (mask)
Iron, lacquer, gold and copper alloy (shakudō), gold, silver, copper, bronze, silk, and leather
A full suit of armor was a huge investment, and samurai who could afford it went to great expense to obtain a striking and distinctly personal ensemble. Specialized artisans—metalsmiths, leather and lacquer workers, weavers, and embroiderers—labored for months to create all the different components. At every step, they made choices about materials and how to fashion and assemble the many elements that make up one suit. They brought equal attention to the elaborate decoration that created a harmonious and instantly recognizable status symbol for its owner. Many armorers went unrecognized, but those employed by wealthy clans, or heads of important workshops, signed their work.
Samurai armor was brilliantly responsive to a fighter’s need for both protection and freedom of movement. Metal plates deflected blows, while the divided skirt made it possible for soldiers to fight more effectively on horseback. Silk cords and hinges gave a warrior the flexibility to lift and aim a bow or twist around to swing a sword. But function alone didn’t account for the armor’s bold color, decoration, and forms, which were important for reasons of hierarchy, personal recognition, and intimidation.
Armor of the Yokohagidō Type
Signed by Saotome Ienari of Jōshū (helmet); signed by Ichiguchi Yoshikata (mask)
Early to mid-Edo period, seventeenth century (helmet); mid-Edo period, eighteenth century (mask); mid-Edo period, eighteenth century (armor)
Iron, leather, gold, wood, fur, hemp, and lacing
The bold red, blue, and gold colors of this suit would have helped a samurai stand out on the battlefield. The flamboyant helmet features a dragon engulfed in flames. The broad horizontal chest plates provided good protection against firearms, introduced to Japanese battlefields in the mid-sixteenth century. The armored sleeves are fitted with reinforcement plates on the upper arms, each embellished with two Sanskrit characters in gold lacquer. These symbols refer to four of the Five Great Buddhas of the mandala from esoteric Buddhism. Fewer plates and less lacing made a suit like this faster to manufacture without sacrificing protection or appearance.
Armor of the Okegawadō Type
Early Edo period, early seventeenth century (armor); late Momoyama period, late sixteenth century (back-mounted standard, sashimono)
Iron, lacquer, bear fur, paper, bamboo, gold, wood, fabric, and horsehair
The three feathers on the back of this armor, known as sashimono, are made of gilded, lacquered Japanese paper. This embellishment is typical of the style of the Momoyama period (1573–1603), during which warriors placed great emphasis on the distinctive, recognizable features and design of their armor. Due to their fragile construction, the feathers were probably not worn in direct combat but by a commander surveying the battlefield from a distance. This armor may also have been worn for military parades.
Armor of the Nuinobedō Type
Late Momoyama period, ca. 1600 (chest armor, helmet bowl, and shoulder guards); Edo period, eighteenth century (remaining pieces)
Iron, lacquer, gold, bronze, silver, leather, horsehair, fabric, wood, and hemp
This impressive suit of armor originally belonged to the great commander Kobayakawa Takakage (1533–1597), who led twenty thousand Japanese troops to victory in the Battle of Pyokje in Korea in the 1590s. It was kept in the possession of the same family, the Mōri, for three hundred years. In 1923, a British missionary purchased the suit and eventually sent it to England. The ensemble has changed hands only three times since leaving the Mōri lineage.
Ridged Helmet with Large Rivets (Ōboshi Sujibachi Kabuto)
Signed by Myōchin Munemasa
Mid-Edo period, ca. 1730
Iron, gold, silver, bronze, gold and copper alloy (shakudō), and leather
In the Edo period (1603–1868), armorers were elevated to the rank of artists. In the nine main armor schools in the Japanese provinces, masters and artisans formed distinctive styles. Most of these schools were established in the 1500s; often founded by prominent artists, the workshops trained generations of artisans who transmitted their craft from father to son. Wealthier warriors, including the shogun, had their own armorers. Several artisans worked to design different components of a single piece of armor; they were proud of the finished pieces and often signed them to claim the product as their work. The Myōchin school, where this helmet was made and which is very well represented in this collection, still exists and has been maintained by the same family for the past four hundred years.
Helmet Representing the Flaming Jewel (Hōju-nari Kaen Kabuto)
Signed by Unkai Mitsuhisa
Early Edo period, ca. 1630
Iron, lacquer, lacing, gold, and bronze
This exquisitely crafted helmet takes the form of the flaming jewel, a frequently used symbol in Buddhist imagery. Each of the flanges has been cut from a single piece of iron into a series of flickering flames that join at the crown to form a larger flame. The turned-back side deflectors are also shaped like flames. The frontal crest, which looks like an upside-down heart, inome (“boar’s eye”), within a circle symbolizes Marishiten, a Buddhist goddess revered by the warrior class.
Foreign-Influenced Helmet (Nanban Kabuto)
Late Momoyama period, late sixteenth–early seventeenth century
Iron, silver, lacquer, and leather
The term nanban is often used to refer to a style of art and design that flourished in Japan in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Derived from a Chinese expression for people of South and Southeast Asia, nanban referred to the Portuguese merchants and missionaries who came to Japan to trade and to seek converts.
Shell-Shaped Helmet (Ōitaragainari Kawari Kabuto)
Early Edo period, seventeenth century
Iron, lacing, and papier-mâché
Imposing and majestic, this helmet is exceptional: it is topped with a large papier-mâché representation of a scallop, and from the side, it seems to have a different shape—the base of two fins and a fish tail energetically striking the water.
Frontal Crest (Maedate)
Mid-Edo period, eighteenth century
Lacquer, gold, and horsehair
Part bird, part fish, and crowned with abundant white horsehair, this frontal crest for a helmet combines air, sea, and land into one intimidating animal. Although the creature is imaginary, the details of eyes, teeth, and snarling snout are rendered with great realism.
Ridged-Bowl Helmet (Sujibachi Kabuto)
Late Muromachi to early Edo period, sixteenth–early seventeenth century
Iron, fur, gold, lacing, leather, bronze, and gold and copper alloy (shakudō)
This helmet is made of forty-three S-shaped iron plates (suji) that interlock, a technique that greatly strengthens the helmet bowl. The crown of the helmet is topped with a representation of the sacred jewel of Buddhism. The front of the helmet is adorned with a gold ring–shaped ornament above a grimacing demon (oni) with large ears. Finely chiseled and engraved fern fronds, symbolizing robustness, complete the decoration. Although the helmet dates from the late Muromachi period (1573–1603), the decorative features were added no earlier than the mid-Edo period (ca. 1750). They resemble those on the helmet of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616), who had unified the country.
Multiplate Ridged Helmet (Sujibachi Kabuto) and Half Mask (Menpō)
Signed by Sadao of the Bamen school (helmet); Nara school (mask)
Late Muromachi period, sixteenth century (helmet); Momoyama period, late sixteenth century (mask)
Iron, copper, gold and copper alloy (shakudō), gold, lacing, wood, horsehair, and leather
After the introduction of firearms, smoke blanketed many battlefields, causing confusion for the troops. So they could be more readily identified, samurai began to wear helmets with elaborate ornaments at the front, back, or sides, often featuring an intricate crest (maedate).
In their quest for unique and meaningful armor, samurai turned to nature, folklore, or religion for inspiration. Whatever the source, they selected designs for their armor that would set them apart and communicate their personality and beliefs, whether whimsical, frightening, or spiritual.
Full-Face Mask (Sōmen)
Signed by Myōchin Ki no Munenaga
Mid-Edo period, 1710
Monumental statues of Agyō stand guard at the entrance to Buddhist temples. The deity is identifiable by the shape of his mouth, formed to suggest the pronunciation of the first syllable of his name. The upper part of this mask can be unhinged to use the lower part alone as a half mask.
Ridged Helmet with Rivets (Hoshi Sujibachi Kabuto)
Signed by Myōchin Yoshiiye
Late Muromachi to early Edo period, late eighteenth–early nineteenth century
Iron, brocade, leather, wood, and lacing
Countless symbols from religion and philosophy influenced the culture of the samurai over the centuries and were frequently used to embellish their armor. One such image was that of Fudō Myōō, the Buddhist deity of wisdom and patron of swordsmen. His attributes are fire, which burns away impediments and impurity; the sword of wisdom, which cuts through ignorance; and the rope, used to bind violent passions and emotions. He is the subject of the miniature at the front of the helmet. Partially lacquered in gold, the wooden figure on the helmet originally formed part of a small, portable shrine before being converted into this ornament. The Fudō Myōō figure stands on a rock in front of a wall of flames and holds two of his attributes, a rope and a sword (now lost).
Cone-Shaped Helmet (Tsuinari Kabuto)
Late Momoyama to early Edo period, seventeenth century
Iron, lacing, lacquer, gold and copper alloy (shakudō), bronze, gold, and fur
The frontal ornament (maedate) of this helmet is most unusual in that the nine slightly twisted bamboo leaves can spin in a breeze. A crescent moon, trimmed with fur, floats above the rear of the helmet, adding further height and majesty. The stylized cherry-blossom crest on the helmet’s side flaps (fukigaeshi) was used by several different clans.
Sword (Efu no Tachi)
Signed by Yokoyama Kōzuke Daijō Fujiwara Sukesada (blade)
Early Edo period, 1660–1670
Steel (blade); bronze, stingray skin, wood, lacquer (nashiji technique), and gold (fittings)
It took hundreds of hours and many specialized workers to make a magnificent sword like this one. A bladesmith formed the long, curved blade to be both strong and flexible. Another artisan applied the stingray skin to the handle. Yet another undertook the lacquer work that decorates the scabbard (the sheath that holds the blade), mixing gold flakes into the lacquer for a shimmering effect. The circular crest of the Abe family, a five-pronged leaf, appears one hundred thirty-five times. Swords of this type would have been worn only by the highest-ranking members of the military aristocracy on official or ceremonial occasions. Nonetheless, this weapon would have been forbidden within the palace walls.
Horse Mask (Bamen)
Late Edo period, nineteenth century
Leather, metal, and lacquer
A bamen is a horse mask that protects the front of the animal’s head and its cheeks. Bamen were often made of boiled leather or papier-mâché that was molded and lacquered to represent dragons or fantastical horses. Horse masks first appeared in the seventeenth century and were mainly used in military parades.
Mid-Edo period, eighteenth century
Iron, wood, and copper
Notice the tiny monkey on each of the stirrups—rare embellishments on this type of equipment. Monkeys were considered protective figures who could ward off illnesses horses were prone to.
This exhibition is organized by
Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor
Premier Exhibition Series Supporters
ACT Foundation, Inc.
William N. Banks, Jr.
Burton M. Gold
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporters
Robin and Hilton Howell
Ambassador Exhibition Supporters
Mrs. Fay S. Howell/The Howell Fund
Karen and Jeb Hughes/Corporate Environments
Loomis Charitable Foundation
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot
The Fred and Rita Richman Fund
Mrs. Harriet H. Warren
Elizabeth and Chris Willett
Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters
Farideh and Al Azadi
Sandra and Dan Baldwin
Mr. Joseph H. Boland, Jr.
Mr. and Mrs. Robin E. Delmer
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo
Margot and Danny McCaul
Wade A. Rakes II & Nicholas Miller
USI Insurance Services
Generous support is also provided by
Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, and the RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.