Coinciding with London’s prestigious Asian Art Week, the sale of the Dennison Collection of Arms and Armour, on Thursday 2 November, is one of the most comprehensive collections of Japanese arms and armour to be seen on the open market. With every sphere of the Japanese arms-collecting world covered, the sale will include complete suits of armour, katana, wakizashi and naginata amongst others, and is sure to appeal to the heart of the Asian Art market.
10 October 2023
In the same vein as Murano’s glassmaking or Persia’s carpet-making industries, Japan’s history is adorned with beautifully crafted arms and armour. Inextricably linked with samurai warriors from the 12th century, the artistry of their arms and armour acted as status symbols, as well as implements of war. Replacing the court government, the samurai eventually brought peace and new leadership, and a set of values and morals that could even be said to shape Japanese culture today.
One such custom associated with the samurai is the seven principles of ‘Bushido’ – Righteousness, Loyalty, Honour, Respect, Honesty, Courage and Consistency are all displayed in the carefully crafted arms. One such example being the katana, one of the most widely recognisable swords in history. Crafted through an intricate process of repeated heating, folding and tempering, the process resulted in a strong and sharp blade.
A Japanese gusoku (composite armour) (£2,000-3,000)
Even with the notoriety of the effective katana, armour was equally crucial for protection on the battlefield. Japanese armour, or yoroi, evolved over centuries, adapting to changing warfare tactics and technologies. A complete set of armour consisted of various components - including the kabuto (helmet), dō (chest armour), sode (shoulder guards), kote (arm guards), haidate (thigh guards) and suneate (shin guards) - with a range of lacquered, chainmail and iron components used.
A group of four Japanese menpo (£1,800-2,200)
The Meiji period (1868-1912) - familiar with many auction-goers - was a time when Satsuma pottery, works in bronze and decorative arts entered the Western market, but was also the time when the need for arms and armour ceased. Ending the era of the samurai, production of traditional arms and armour declined considerably, with manufacturers turning to decorative arts to address the shortfall in demand. In retrospect, it bookends one of the finest periods of arms and amour for collectors and historians alike.
A Chinese jian short sword (£1,500-2,500)
Despite perhaps their initially daunting appearance, the traditional arms and armour of Japan offer a fascinating window into an entire culture and the attitudes that underpinned the samurai class. Not merely instruments of war, but symbols of honour, craftsmanship, and a deep connection to a way of life that has left an indelible mark on Japan’s identity.
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