Tales of the heroics of samurai warriors have enchanted people since the 12th century. This fall, SAMA is pleased to present Lethal Beauty: Samurai Weapons and Armor, an exhibition highlighting the striking duality of deadly weaponry created with artistic beauty.
Nearly seventy works by master craftsmen spanning the 13th to 20th centuries provide a comprehensive overview of the technical and aesthetic refinement of samurai art and artifacts. Curated by Dr. Andreas Marks, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C., the exhibition features full suits of armor, helmets, warrior hats, face masks, long and short swords, daggers, rifles and more.
For 700 years, samurai warriors served the nobility in Japan through periods of intense warfare and of lasting peace, most notably the reign of the Tokugawa shoguns from the Edo period (1603-1868). Artists memorialized important battles on large folding screens and other media. Lethal Beauty showcases a pair of 17th-century folding screens by an artist of the Kano school depicting battle scenes from the Genpei War (1180–85). Episodes from the Genpei War were recorded in the 14th-century epic The Tale of the Heike, which marks the dawn of samurai honor. In addition to mastering martial arts, samurai lived by ideals of morality, bravery, compassion, respect, glory and loyalty—a code known as Bushidō (literally, “the way of the samurai”).
Elite samurai engaged not only in battles but also in artistic and spiritual pursuits. Suits of armor became exquisite designs. Warriors flaunted fierce face masks and dramatic helmets, emphasizing a sense of superhuman power. Swords decorated with elaborate mountings reflected the accomplished taste of the owner, and the blades, created by highly refined craftsmen, were themselves unique artistic expressions. Swords served several purposes, as Dr. Andreas Marks has noted: the samurai would “carry two swords with them—the larger would be left when entering someone’s home as a sign of peace and the smaller would be carried with them at all times.” Lethal Beauty promises to reveal samurai chivalry in all its subtlety and ferocity.
The San Antonio Museum of Art is housed in the historic Lone Star Brewery along the Museum Reach section of the San Antonio River Walk near downtown. SAMA’s collection contains more than 25,000 works of art representing cultures from around the world and over 5,000 years of history.
SAMA is open Tuesday, Friday and Saturday: 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.