Heroic Japan

The way of the Samurai

2 avril 2004 - 27 juin 2004


In the west and in Japan itself the image of the Samurai exerts a lasting fascination. Transported onto the big screen, into novels or manga, (comic books) this idealised image is that of a formidable warrior adhering to a strict code of conduct based on a sense of honour, courage and a loyalty above reproach.

However, outside of these stereotypes, the warrior was also a man of taste who studied and practised arts as sophisticated as poetry, calligraphy, ikebana and the tea ceremony.

This exhibition which illustrates the way of the Samurai brings together more than 200 selected objects from among the rich Japanese collection of Alfred Baur : prints, sword fittings, lacquerware and arms.

The exhibition comprises two parts :

  • The first part presents the armament of a Japanese warrior concentrating mainly on the sword the true symbol of the Samurai which is at the same time a formidable weapon and a work of art, the result of the work of highly skilled artisans. The sword consists of elements which must be appreciated independently : firstly the blade, the quality of which determines the value of the sword. Next the scabbard, and finally, the sword mounts. From the beginning of the 17th century when the sword became an object of ornamentation worn only for official ceremonies the decoration of these sword hilts became more precious and finely worked, creating pieces of extraordinary finesse.
    Two superb sets of armour as well as a saddle and some lacquered stirrups lent by the Geneva Museum of Ethnography, complete this part of the exhibition.
  • The second part of the exhibition illustrates different ways in which the Samurai were represented in the traditional Japanese arts of the Edo (1615 – 1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods. Illustrated books, woodblock prints, lacquerware and decorative sword hilts draw their inspiration from the epic stories relating to the battles, the treachery, and the sacrifices of the heroes of the past. By reproducing these stories over and over, the artists, working in many different fields, have exaggerated the exploits of the Samurai and thus fixed them firmly in the popular imagination.