Bonhams offers first Samurai-themed auction

This article was originally published in Antique Trader
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NEW YORK – When Westerners first encountered the remnants of the Samurai culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the legends of their loyalty and discipline captured the imaginations of people throughout the world. Institutions at the time voraciously collected any and all things Samurai to satisfy academics and the public, alike.

Today, the market is focused on private collectors, as discerning connoisseurs vie for their own piece of this mythical history. To meet the demand, Bonhams will hold its Arts of the Samurai sale Oct. 16 at the firm’s New York location, featuring more than 200 examples of Samurai armor, helmets, swords, sword fittings and folding screens at a range of price points.

Samurai helmet

A Myochin iron eccentrically shaped helmet (kawari kabuto), by Myochin Muneyasu, dated 1789. Constructed of eight plates riveted together forming a broad helmet bowl with a low profile, the front hammered up and carved to form the elaborated beak and face of akappa; the interior lacquered gold and signed and dated. Estimate: $20,000-$30,000.
Photo courtesy Bonhams

Originally, the Samurai were the policing force of Kyoto’s 12th century imperial government. Gradually, the Samurai wrested administrative control from the imperial household, but by the 14th century, stability had given way to infighting between rival Samurai clans.

As the top caste in Japanese society, everything about the appearance of the Samurai was regulated, including their hair and clothes. All Samurai men were required to maintain armor suitable for battle, even in peacetime. Boldly ornate armor, designed to impress one’s peers as much as to inspire fear in an enemy, was one way in which Samurai affluence manifested itself from the 17th century forward. Bonhams will showcase a diverse group of armor and helmets in the sale, and each piece has its own customized aesthetic.

Bonhams Japanese Art Specialist Jeffrey Olson believes Samurai culture has maintained its mystique not only because of its rigorous ideals but also because of its visually arresting pageantry. This combination of style and substance makes it a constant source of inspiration.

For more information, or to view the full catalog, visit Bonhams.

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