Shogun Art is proud to have supplied some of the more important items of the Koelliker collection
Armours, helmets and accessories of Samurai, the powerful military caste that ruled Japan for seven centuries, are on exhibit at Palazzo Fortuny. The second floor of the palace, that was the home of the artist Mariano Fortuny, will host the war-garments of Koelliker collection in Milan, almost unique in Europe for the number and quality of its items, and is undoubtedly one of the most important outside Japan.
The items, created between the Azuchi Momoyama period (1575 – 1603) and the Edo period (1603 – 1867), were always considered, even in peacetime, an important sign of authority and of social condition. are of amazing beauty, enriched by superbly crafted ornaments.
You can admire tosei gusoku (“modern armour”) and learn their history, constructive techniques, the main schools of arms-makers and discover their various features (dô, menpô, kote, haidate etc). There are also examples of Japanese helmets, the kabuto, and of kawari kabuto (“extraordinary helmets”) in eccentric and spectacular shapes and with ornaments generally inspired by sacred objects or natural elements (dragons, animals, fruit…). The exhibition concludes with some samurai accessories of extraordinary quality (often embossed), such as maedate (ornaments for helmets), mounts for swords and some blades for katana, the weapon most favoured by the samurai.
The exhibition is produced in collaboration with the Fondazione Mazzotta and the Town Council of Milan. Catalogue Mazzotta.
The word samurai translates as “one who serves.” A samurai shared many similarities with the medieval European knight. One had to be born into a samurai or knightly family; only infrequently, as in the case of Toyotomi Hideoyoshi, was one made a samurai.
A samurai was part of the ruling elite and had many privileges afforded him. These warriors held land or fiefs given to them by their lords in exchange for service. Tax revenue and the produce from the land enabled the samurai to devote their time to martial training. Some samurai, especially during the unification period, did not have lords. These samurai were known as ronin, “wave men.” Frequently, these men turned to banditry to make money, a not so honorable profession. Like European medieval knights, samurai had a strict code of conduct on how to lead their lives. Chivalry was the code for knights, while Bushido was the code of the samurai. Honor and the upholding of it was very important to the samurai. If one lost honor through defeat in battle, the code expected the samurai to kill himself. However, Bushido and Chivalry were the ideals, but not the norm.
Sometimes these warriors would commit acts not allowed by their code but would not be punished. During the Edo period, when the Tokugawa shoguns ruled Japan, samurai no longer needed to train for war. Instead, they concentrated on running the government and on gentlemanly pursuits like calligraphy or painting.
In 1868, the Tokugawa shogun rule came to an end and the samurai disbanded. The emperor of Japan, who was only a figurehead during the shogunate, reasserted his power. One of his acts was officially dissolving the samurai as a class in Japan. Although the samurai are gone, their code and way of life are still admired to this day.