By Deborah Wong, Staff Writer
As you enter the ‘Samurai!’ exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, you face three formidable samurai armors. These armors symbolize courage, skills and status in Japanese society. You initially stare in fear at the dragon-shaped horns on the helmet, the protruding nose on the mask and the gold-encrusted swirls on the chest piece. But after understanding that every minuscule detail has a function and meaning, you stare in awe at these majestic Samurais– the military elite of Japan.
The exquisite art of these Japanese warriors fascinate collectors Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller— so much so that eventually expanded their collection into The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum in Dallas, Texas. ‘Samurai!’ shares a selection of these artifacts with Bostonians, illustrating the evolution of these fearsome fighters from the 12th to the 19th century. The samurai is still widely talked about today, and their skills continue to inspire multiple Eastern sports and martial arts. The samurai— with their truly remarkable finesse— are praised for their honorable code based on the seven essential virtues: honesty, courage, respect, benevolence, rectitude, honor and loyalty.
The opening of the collection introduces the overall history of these highly trained combatants. Three soldiers stand erect in full uniform, clutching their weapons: chest armor, footwear, a mask, a helmet, a bow and arrow and a thin sword. Their posture resembles a Buckingham palace guard, but you wouldn’t want to stand too close to these men should they to come to life. As you continue along, parts of the armor are separated for you to analyze each of the traditional opera-like masks, the vibrant horse saddles and the daunting helmets.
The Shogun, or warlords, described the sword as “the soul of the samurai,” but surprisingly there aren’t many swords at the MFA. In fact; only one sword stood out from the whole collection. The single sword was placed in a glass box, almost like it was levitating in the middle of the room. The gold on the handle and the bronze pieces radiated, causing anyone who entered this room to approach the thin piece of steel. Museum guests could not take their eyes off the detailed gold leaves and the shiny lacquer. I applaud them for this intriguing, alluring display of the soul of these fighters.
But hands down, the helmets stole the spotlight; the intricate engravings of the iron and steel are absolutely breathtaking. Certain carved shapes and pieces reveal Japanese beliefs and superstitions. For example, one helmet had what looked like Bugs Bunny ears planted on the top. Since the metal looks extremely long and heavy the design may seem to hinder the warrior’s performance when fighting, but those hare ears symbolize longevity.
Once you step to the next helmet, you’re faced with one that is adorned with little flames on the side and on the top to represent the Buddhist doctrine. Besides that, the pendant for the goddess of archers is emblazoned on the forehead of the helmet. Every little detail matters in the construction of these uniforms.
However the exhibition did not provide any description of the fighting styles of the samurai. They are trained to be precise in their fighting technique yet they also carry some form of art in their movements. The benefit of omitting the gory war scenes is to allow the viewers to imagine for themselves on how these samurai perform on and off the battlefield when they strap on their armors. Plus, with just the artifacts on display, it reminds the audience that they’re not just bloodthirsty killers— they carry some form of grace.
Nonetheless I would personally love to view some aspects of their training. There seems to be a gap in their display of the growth of the start of the samurai’s journey as a 12-year-old boy to the time when he vows to follow bushido, a code to fight and to accept death.
The names and the classes of the samurai may be confusing but, overall the exhibition was able to illuminate on their transformation from generation to generation, providing sufficient background on the cultural and doctrinal beliefs, the military history of them, their feudal lords, and the creation of each individual masterpiece.
The samurai celebrated “tango-no-sekku” to remind the young men of their importance of their samurai status. Now the stories of these Japanese elite fighters aren’t only shared among young men, but among people of all ages. Go see the MFA version of tango-no-sekku where they remind everyone of these revered and warriors.
The ‘Samurai!’ exhibition will run at the MFA through Aug. 4.
By Heather Goldin, Staff Writer
I know you’ve probably heard this Bucket List item a million times, but before you scroll down to the next post just hear me out.
There are multiple stereotypes surrounding museums, namely a huge white-walled building with art older than, well, everything else, ever. Those who truly appreciate art stare at paintings for hours on end, discovering the true genius nature of the piece and why the artist used specific colors and facial expressions. But hey, newsflash! This just in: art is not just old and boring.
Don’t believe me? Speaking from personal experience here—I’m not exactly an art expert—but I think Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has something for everyone. And what do you have to lose? The museum itself is free for Boston University students, and the only fee you have to cough up is for the T. Just take the B Line to Copley and transfer to the E Line to get off at the Museum of Fine Arts stop.
The Museum of Fine Arts is huge, and it’s easy to get lost. What I found really helpful was a map of all the exhibits that you receive upon entering the museum. You get a new one every time, but feel free to take the map home as a souvenir. The map led me to two floors of contemporary art, and boy, was I intrigued. Every piece seems to stand out, and the many mediums the art is constructed from seem virtually endless. One piece I was drawn to, “Endlessly Repeating Twentieth-Century Modernism” by Josiah McElheny, is a box of hand-blown glass explicitly created to multiply the pieces inside. This piece was just the first of many thought-provoking pieces that I couldn’t help looking at a little closer. I discovered at the museum that art is full of illusions, viewed differently at every angle.
There is so much to see at the museum that you may find yourself there for most of the day.Don’t worry about food. The museum has multiple cafés and restaurants that also serve delicious food and drinks. The Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard is a great place to relax, eat and get some work done. I took a short break from my museum expedition to enjoy a pumpkin latte and roast beef sandwich from Taste, a café on the first level of the museum.
Sometimes, it’s a good idea to wander around, especially when you have no idea what kind of art you might enjoy. I stumbled upon an exhibit titled “Lure of Japan,” scheduled to remain through Dec. 31. I liked this gallery because of the bright primary colors, and the art looked like posters I might hang in my dorm room. Another collection truly exciting to look at was the third floor modern art gallery, and a gallery of instruments found me questioning how I never knew instruments could be so beautifully made.
The best part of my visit to the museum was by far viewing the work of Mario Testino, both a fashion and celebrity photographer. This exhibit will remain until February 2013, so go now while you have a chance! Testino has a small part of his exhibit featuring British Royal portraits, which is quite a sight. I love staring at famous British people as much as the next person, but this small part is nothing compared to the rest of his exhibit. The photos are simply breathtaking, and though I couldn’t take photos as evidence, please take my word for it and check them out yourself.
Some of the art you may just pass by without a second look, but others may stop you in your tracks. The museum is open seven days a week, it’s free and not very far away. So what are you waiting for? Just go check it out already!