Object of the Week: A breastplate from a set of 18th century samurai armour

By Culture24 Reporter | 08 June 2016

This 18th century samurai armour breastplate is decorated with an embossed eagle design in leather

A photo of a red, brown and gold samurai breastplate
© Durham University
Japan’s samurai soldiers may have seemed fearsome through pieces such as this, but they were actually patrons and producers of the arts centuries ago.

“Contrary to their rough image as fighters, Japan’s samurai elite were lovers of literature and the arts, leaving behind a legacy that continues to the present day,” says Dr Rebekah Clements, the curator of a new exhibition at the Oriental Museum in Durham.

“The ruling shoguns and their high-ranking samurai were keen to cultivate their reputation as cultured rulers in the East Asian tradition. When they took over as the effective centre of power in Japan from the 12th century many adopted courtly pursuits including Japanese and Chinese poetry, painting, and calligraphy.
“In 1644 when the Ming dynasty in China fell to the Qing, a tribe who were regarded as uncultured barbarians, many of Japan’s samurai elite saw themselves as the true inheritors of the cultural legacy of China.”

  • The Shogun’s Cultured Warriors is at the Oriental Museum until November 27 2016, supported by the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture at Durham University. Visit dur.ac.uk/oriental.museum/.

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More from Culture24's Object of the Week

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