What’s on View?
With 11 full suits of Japanese armor and a wide variety of arms from both the Cincinnati Art Museum’s collection and the private local collection of Gary Grose, the exhibition is one of the most exciting assemblies of Samurai suits and related materials ever shown. The weapons on view include swords, polearms, guns, pistols, and hidden weapons.
The exhibition will also showcase related Japanese artworks from the museum’s permanent collection, including battle prints, paintings, metal crafts, banners, and costumes, most of which have never been on display before.
What is a Samurai?
The Japanese word “Samurai” describes the middle and upper echelons of the warrior class in Japan from 1185 to 1868. These warriors were trained as officers in military tactics and strategy, and they followed a set of rules and ethical principles that later came to be known as the bushidō (the way of the warrior).
Not only were the Samurai warriors the ruling power, their code of behavior, based on the principles of loyalty and honor, continues to play a significant role in Japanese aesthetics and culture today.
A Child’s Suit of Armor
Among the eight suits of armor from Gary Grose’s collection is an example made for a boy about 13 years old.
Armor constructed for boys’ coming of age are rare and were crafted with the same degree of precision as adult armor. Often the children of Samurai were forbidden from participating in battle. Some, however, were required to partake in battle from a young age to gain experience and earn loyalty and respect.
The beautifully stenciled doeskin, the gilded iron helmet, and the careful construction indicate this small-scale armor was made for a wealthy Samurai family. The helmet is shaped like an eboshi, a type of headdress worn at the imperial court during the Heian period (794–1185).
The History of the Museum’s Suits of Armor
All three suits of armor in the museum’s collection tell interesting tales of women who helped build the Japanese art collection in the late nineteenth century. Although the museum’s suits are among the earliest artworks in its collection, two have not been on display for more than a century.
The first entered the collection in 1881, five years before the institution opened its doors to the public. It was gifted by Mrs. Enoch T. Carson through the Women’s Art Museum Association of Cincinnati (WAMA), an organization instrumental in founding the museum.
The other two suits of armor, purchased from Dr. Adeline Kelsey (1844–1931) in 1892, tell a touching tale about a courageous female doctor who served in Japan as a medical missionary. She raised funds to assist two young Japanese women obtain medical training in Cincinnati, who then became pioneering female doctors in their home country.
Featured alongside Dressed to Kill is Transcending Reality: The Woodcuts of Kōsaka Gajin. Joint tickets allow entry to both special exhibitions.
All ticketed exhibitions are free for museum members. Non-members may purchase tickets at cincinnatiartmuseum.org/dressedtokill or at the art museum. $10 ticket for adults; $5 for children ages 6–17 and college students with ID. Other discounts available.