DETROIT — There is a lot more to the legendary Japanese samurai than meets the eye, and visitors to the Detroit Institute of Arts exhibition Samurai: Beyond the Sword will experience the nuanced culture of these revered warriors through more than 125 artworks that tell their story. The exhibition is on view March 9 -June 1.
Samurai: Beyond the Sword is based on the traveling exhibition Lethal Beauty: Samurai Weapons and Armor, from the collection of the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture. Birgitta Augustin, DIA associate curator and acting department head of Arts of Asia & the Islamic World, along with consultant Masako Watanabe, curated Samurai: Beyond the Sword.
The exhibition offers an in-depth look at the samurai — shoguns (supreme military rulers), daimyo (regional lords) and soldiers — who sought balance between military and cultural pursuits. The exhibition explores artworks that project the image of the samurai not only as fierce warriors but also as patrons of the arts and sophisticated artists and scholars during the relatively peaceful Edo period (1603–1868).
“There has long been a fascination with Japan’s elite samurai warriors,” said Graham W. J. Beal, DIA director. “Some people might not be aware that to become a samurai, study of the arts and literature was required, along with military training. The artworks in the exhibition provide a look at these various facets of samurai culture.”
Menacing suits of armor and meticulously crafted sword blades are evidence of the samurai’s military might, while exquisitely painted scenes of nature and finely crafted tea ceremony objects reveal their aesthetic ideals. Many objects used for battle are embellished with artistic, literary and spiritual symbols, illustrating the integration of samurai values.
Among the artworks are helmets, face masks, and paintings of legendary Buddhist and Chinese figures, as well as scenes of epic battles, shimmering Noh theatre costumes and illustrated classical literature on screen and scroll paintings. These and other objects reveal the principles of awareness and mindfulness that samurai pursued throughout their lives.
Samurai means “one who serves,” and, at one point, they were warriors who served Japan’s emperor and nobility as swords for hire. Over time, the samurai organized into powerful warrior bands with the manpower and military training to grasp political control for themselves. For several centuries, warring samurai factions battled for land and supremacy.
A special preview will be hosted by the DIA auxiliary Asian & Islamic Art Forum on March 8 from 6 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $250 and include a reception with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, a three-course dinner with a Japanese flair, an exhibition viewing and valet parking. Ticket information is available at dia.org/aiaf.
A catalog of the traveling exhibition, Lethal Beauty: Samurai Weapons and Armor, is available in soft cover for $20 in the DIA’s museum shop. A special issue of the DIA’s Bulletin, featuring essays by nine experts on the art and arts of Japan’s warriors, will be available in the museum shop for $15.
Exhibition tickets are on sale now and are $16 for adults, $8 for ages 6–17, and free for DIA members. Group tickets (15+) are $12 per ticket and discounts are available for early reservations. Purchase at DIA Box Office, dia.org or 313-833-4005. A $3.50 charge applies to nonmember tickets not purchased at the DIA. Tickets are timed, and advance purchase is recommended.