Phoenix Art Museum Explores Samurai Culture

Traveling exhibition of largest collection of samurai regalia outside of Japan sheds light on samurai culture.

On March 1, Phoenix Art Museum opened “Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection,” a traveling exhibition taking visitors on a journey back in time to discover the history, culture and pageantry of the revered and feared Japanese samurai warriors.

The exhibition, organized by The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum – The Samurai Collection in Dallas, features more than 140 objects of warrior regalia, with full suits of armor, helmets and masks, weapons, horse tack and other battle gear. It is the largest and most comprehensive collection of its kind outside of Japan.

Jinbaori (surcoat), mid Edo period, 18th century. Wool, silk, brocade.
PHOTO: BRAD FLOWERS

“We are excited to present to our community this remarkable collection of samurai,” says Amada Cruz, Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view objects of such exquisite craftsmanship and historical importance from samurai culture, enabling us to bring a taste of the wider world to our diverse communities.”

The exhibition traces the evolution of the distinctive appearance and equipment of the samurai through the centuries and examines the warriors’ history through works of consummate craftsmanship and exquisite design. During the centuries covered by the exhibition, warfare evolved from combat between small bands of equestrian archers to the clash of vast armies of infantry and cavalry equipped with swords, spears and even matchlock guns. Arms and armor were needed in unprecedented quantities, and craftsmen responded with an astonishingly varied array of armor that was both functional and visually spectacular, a celebration of the warrior’s prowess.

Dr. Janet Baker, the museum’s curator of Asian art, emphasized the exhibition’s wide-ranging appeal. “Visitors with a variety of interests, from military history to Japanese culture, will find something compelling in these objects.” She cited the unique opportunity for museum visitors to deepen their understanding of a historical culture whose presence lives on in the popular imagination.

Samurai regalia and culture is known to have influenced many elements of modern popular culture, from anime to Star Wars. “This exhibition allows us to explore the lives of historical figures who still fascinate us but whom we may not fully understand, whose way of life and approach to the world encompassed far more than responsibilities on the battlefield. To experience these objects in person is to broaden not only our knowledge of history, but of our cultural present and its perspective on the past.”


Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection

March 1 – July 16

Phoenix Art Museum (Steele Gallery), 1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix

For more information, visit phxart.org.

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