In the late 19th century Western culture was revolutionised when it discovered the sophistication and novelty of the arts developed in Japan during its 230 years of isolation from the rest of the world. Japonism became a craze as artists and collectors scrambled to acquire woodblock prints, lacquer ware and other items that had begun to appear in antique and curio shops. Tourists flocked to Japan to see for themselves the final days of a fast vanishing society, bringing back souvenirs to adorn their homes, not least being the arms and armour of the samurai, the hereditary military class that had dominated Japanese society for almost 1000 years. Many saw these items simply as curiosities, but others recognised the superlative quality and artistry they showed.
It was exactly these attributes that were recognised some 30 years ago by Peter Janssen who sought out and began to acquire examples of the finest quality, building up a large collection of Japanese arms and armour that can have few if any rivals anywhere in the world. In an act of unprecedented generosity, Peter Janssen is now making his magnificent collection available to others, both for study by experts or simply to be admired by others. In his new, purposely-built Samurai Art Museum, visitors can see for themselves some of the finest products of Japan’s armourers, swordsmiths, lacquer workers and makers of sword fittings. While some of the armours and helmets were made to protect their wearers on the battlefield, others were made for Japan’s aristocracy, to be worn as an indication of their rank and status.
Also displayed are swords carried by some of Japan’s highest nobles, blades treasured in families for centuries and sword fittings produced by artists whose exquisite workmanship has never been equalled. Their products in iron, gold, silver and metallic alloys depict scenes from nature, from myths and legends as well as everyday objects in such minute detail as to almost defy belief. Art is displayed here in almost infinite variety.
In short, the Samurai-Art Museum offers visitors an experience that will delight and surprise how imaginative and consummately beautiful Japan’s applied arts can be.
The Samurai Art Museum is due to open to the public in late 2017