Kabuto samurai Helmet in dragonfly shape. 17th century, Japan. Iron, lacquer, wood, leather, gilt, pigments, silk, papier-mâché.
28 x 24 x 13 3/4 in. (71.12 x 60.96 x 34.93 cm) (approx.)
The James Ford Bell Foundation Endowment for Art Acquisition and gift of funds from Siri and Bob Marshall 2012.31.1a-c . IMA
During the 15th and 16th centuries, Japan’s feudal families vied for supremacy, amassing vast armies to ensure their dominion and to conquer weaker neighbors. High-ranking lords began to embellish their helmets with sculptural forms so that they could be visually located on the battlefield. Exotic helmets (kawari kabuto) also allowed leaders to choose symbolic motifs for their helmets that reflected some aspect of their personality or that of their collective battalions. This helmet is shaped like a giant dragonfly. In Japan, the dragonfly is symbolic of focused endeavor and vigilance because of its manner of moving up, down and sideways while continuing to face forward. In addition, in ancient texts Japan was often referred to as Akitsushima (Land of the Dragonflies), because of their abundance. They were also thought to be the spirits of rice, since they are often to be found hovering above the flooded rice fields.
‘Jinbaori’ (Samurai formal surcoat), featuring large wave motifs. 18th century, Japan. Wool felt appliqués and silk chain-stitch embroidery on wool felt; trimmed with resist dyed deerskin and tortoiseshell button; lined with metallic brocaded silk. LACMA
Kuniyoshi, Musashi Miyamoto as samurai