What is a Samurai Doing Here?

East Asian objects from the Celje Regional Museum collection 


Barbara Trnovec

Charming black lacquerware with distinctive decorations first became objects of desire among the European aristocracy in the 16th century, but eventually turned into items accessible to broader circles of collectors. Some of the lacquer objects in the exhibition were made in Japan, while others were produced in Europe according to Japanese models. One of the most popular decorations was the motif of flowers and birds, characterized by a wide range of symbolic meanings. Flowers and birds are depicted on a number of the exhibited objects, including the Japanese folding screen, whose detail is presented at the exhibition, and a gilded cobalt blue fan with an ivory handle. This is one of the most valuable fans found in any Slovenian museum collection.

The valuable missionary scroll is one of the few such well-preserved specimens of high quality in museum collections worldwide. It was produced in the second half of the 19th century in the workshop of a Jesuit orphanage near Shanghai. The back of the scroll bears a barely visible, four-line pencil note. We can discern the following: Mission Anstalt (?), (illegible) bei Shanghai, Shanghai 3/5 1883, Hoy (?).

Another interesting set of items is the samurai equipment, especially the two helmets. The first of them, on display at the exhibition, stands out for its unique shape and its age – it is said to have been made in the 16th century – and the second stands out for its superior workmanship. Both of them were once used in their authentic environment, in Japan, as part of battle equipment. They were brought from Japan in the 19th century and transferred to their new, Slovene environment, where they turned into decorative objects. They adorned the “blue-painted Chinese room” at Lemberg Castle. Perhaps the same room also boasted an attractive bronze incense burner in the shape of an elephant with a pagoda on its back, a so-called “peace bringing elephant”. This would only be possible to tell after thorough analysis of photographs taken of the castle’s interior at the time.

Who were the collectors of these objects? When and how did they acquire them? What motivated them to do so? What is the provenance of these items? How did they end up in the Celje Museum? These objects of East Asian origin, which comprise the unusual collection kept by the Provincial Museum of Celje (PMC), thus raise many questions that still need to be answered. 

Just as the collection itself is unusual in its nature, so is the way it came into being. The objects originate from the Federal Collection Centre for Cultural and Historical Objects of the Celje District Centre (FZC OC Celje), established in the summer of 1945. The same year, they were taken over by the Celje Regional Museum (PMC), called the Celje Municipal Museum at the time. They were inventoried in 1964, with 153 inventory numbers determined (that does not denote the number of items in the collection), and the collection was named the Collection of Objects from Asia and South America. For decades, it shared the fate of many collections kept in museum storage and almost unknown to both the general public and experts.

We will probably never know to whom the majority of the objects in the collection belonged before their “transition to state ownership”. However, prior ownership may be determined in some instances. Dedicated research and a series of fortunate coincidences for example led to the discovery of the samurai equipment’s origin in 2017. The equipment was presented to the general public that same year for the first time at the exhibition entitled Paths of the Samurai at the National Museum of Slovenia. Some wondered at the time, and may still be wondering, whether these “foreign, exotic” objects were also part of our heritage. The answer is yes, of course. After all, they contributed to the process of shaping the spiritual landscape of our region, our values, identity, beliefs, knowledge, and traditions. Therefore, they belong to our cultural heritage just as well.

Museums – institutions open to the public, and in the service of society and its development – collect, preserve, study, interpret, and exhibit heritage, among other things, as well as provide information about it “in order to develop heritage awareness, spread knowledge about its values, ​​and encourage its appreciation”. The fruitful cooperation between the Celje Regional Museum and the Department of Asian Studies at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, which has been ongoing since 2014, has further contributed to the realization of these noble objectives. Three years later (in 2017), this partnership led the department and the museum to sign an agreement, according to which both institutions committed themselves to joint research, with a special emphasis on the study of objects of Asian origin kept by the Celje Regional Museum. Since 2018, this cooperation has been part of the project called East Asian Collections in Slovenia: Inclusion of Slovenia in the Global Exchanges of Objects and Ideas with East Asia. The present exhibition is but one of the results achieved though this cooperation.


Opcijsko Naslovnica Glava Ptici Final 2
The motif of a branch with open camellia flowers and three sparrows from the Japanese black-lacquered table A 80, interpreted in cobalt blue from the Chinese fan A 64. Both objects are part of the Collection of Objects from Asia and South America from the Celje Regional Museum.


1 Most collections and individual East Asian objects kept by Slovenian museums were brought or sent to the region of present-day Slovenia at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries by sailors, missionaries, diplomats, scientists, or travellers who journeyed to East Asia (Vampelj Suhadolnik, “Collecting Culture and East Asian Collections in Slovenia”, 93).

2 Account given by Peter Krisper (b. 1923) and his sister Roswitha Krisper (b. 1924), who frequently visited Lemberg Castle when children. I interviewed them on 2 February 2017 at their home in Klagenfurt.

3 The search for two albums featuring 280 photographs – including the photographs of various interiors at the Lemberg Castle – that were returned to Hubert Wolfgang Gallé by the PMC in 2006 has been has not born any results to date. These photographs might help us determine whether any of the East Asian objects from the Celje Regional Museum collection originate from the Lemberg Castle. The “List of objects seized from the manor of Netta Gallé”, dated 12 July 1945 and kept by the Historical Archives Celje, lists 30 objects modified by the adjective “Japanese” and one by the adjective “Oriental”.

4 The motivation behind collecting practices is crucial when trying to define a group of collected objects as a collection, and thus separate them from other forms of object accumulation. Motives for collecting can vary considerably, while the amassed material can only become a collection when someone defines it as such (Pearce 1994: 158). Article 3 of the Cultural Heritage Protection Act defines a (museum) collection as “a group of movable property with related heritage values bound by a common historical or spatial context” (available at: https://www.uradni-list.si/glasilo-uradni-list-rs/vsebina/2008-01-0485?sop=2008-01-0485).

5 The organization and operation of the Federal Collection Centre was prescribed by the Instructions for the Establishment and Operation of Collection Centres, issued by the Ministry of Education on 31 July 1945. The legal basis for the institution’s operation was provided by the Act on the Collection, Preservation and Distribution of Books and Other Cultural, Scientific and Artistic Objects that Became State Property by Decree of the Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia. Among other things, the law prescribed the transfer of any “enemy property to state ownership”. (Kodrič Dačić, “Federal Collection Centre and its Contribution to the Supplementation of the National and University Library Funds “, 53)

6 The collection consists of more than 153 items, although the objects are inventoried under 153 inventory numbers. 13 pieces of samurai equipment, for example, were inventoried under one inventory number only. Further, there are a series of 22 fans featuring motifs from Chinese opera also inventoried as one item, while several other examples of the kind may be found as well.

7 Ralf Čeplak Mencin, Curator of Asia and Oceania at the Slovene Ethnographic Museum, for example, was not aware the Collection of Objects from Asia and South America existed and was kept by the Celje Regional Museum, although he inquired about such collections or about individual Asian objects among fellow curators while writing his book In the Land of the Celestial Dragon: 350 Years of Contacts with China, published in 2012. Maja Veselič similarly notes that some collections “sit and wait in museum storage, and are virtually unknown to the general public”, citing the example of Chinese objects from the Ivan Skušek collection. (Veselič, ” Collecting Cultures: Ideologies and Practices of Collection and Exhibition”, 5)

8 Two events were crucial: in January 2017, I discovered several documents related to Lemberg Castle and dating from 1945 in the Historical Archives of Celje. These included the “List of objects seized from the manor of Netta Gallé”. In February 2017, I conducted an interview with Peter Krisper and his sister Roswitha Krisper in Klagenfurt. Both interviewees confirmed that the samurai armour originated from the Lemberg Castle.

9 Cultural heritage constitutes goods inherited from the past that reflect this aspect precisely – the values, identity, beliefs, knowledge, and traditions of Slovenes and other citizens of Slovenia. This is how cultural heritage is defined in Article 1 of the Cultural Heritage Protection Act.
According to the ICOM, the International Council of Museums, cultural heritage refers to “any object or concept of aesthetic, historical, scientific or spiritual significance.” (ICOM, ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums, 2005)

Elephant-shaped incense burner with a pagoda on its back

The bronze incense burner was produced during the Meiji period, which lasted between 1868 and 1912, and brought about a flourishing development of metalwork art in Japan. The censer consists of an elephant, which serves as the pedestal and incense holder, and the upper and lower tiers of a pagoda, which form the top of the censer. The elephant’s trunk is turned upwards, which is believed to bring good luck, while the animal’s back is covered with a richly decorated blanket, adorned on each side with a depiction of a Japanese dragon with three claws on each paw. The rear of the blanket, meanwhile, bears an engraving of a Japanese dragon called Ogonchō or “golden bird”. The elephant carries a Chinese pagoda with curved roof corners on its back, yet another Japanese dragon coiling in the round finish atop the pagoda.

Artistically speaking, the censer is a combination of Chinese motifs and Japanese characteristics. The elephant with a pagoda on its back is a distinctly Chinese motif; its Chinese name, taiping youxiang, could be translated as “a peace bringing elephant”. It is represented by an image of an elephant carrying a large object on its back, which symbolizes good luck, peace, and abundance. In Buddhist tradition, the pagoda meanwhile symbolises peace and represents an auspicious symbol. Along with Buddhism and other cultural and trade exchanges, the motif and symbolism of an elephant with a pagoda spread throughout East Asia, including Japan.

2. A 7
Elephant-shaped incense burner with a pagoda on its back, cast and gilded bronze, Japan, late 19th or early 20th centuries, h. 61.5 cm, w. 12 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 7.



Sculpture of a samurai on horseback


The bronze figure from the Meiji period (1868–1912) depicts a samurai on horseback. It consists of two parts, namely the horse and the rider, which are fused together with a joint between the samurai’s right hand and the reins in order to make the sculpture more stable.

The characters engraved at the bottom of the horse indicate the name of the manufacturer. The figure was produced by a workshop known by the family name Yoshimitsu. With the beginning of the Meiji period, the shogunate’s military rule came to an end, and Japan opened up to Western ideas and the international market. In 1876, a new law was passed and banned samurai from carrying swords, forcing swordsmiths to adapt to the new situation. Many master craftsmen lost their work and mostly switched to the production metal artwork, which they later presented at various international exhibitions. Their outstanding artistry gave rise to an extraordinarily high demand for such metalwork art objects across Europe and the USA. Some workshops flourished at a rapid pace and developed new modes of artistic expression. They produced either superior-quality and expensive objects or more affordable, albeit still high-quality products, which could sell in large numbers due to their moderate price. The Yoshimitsu workshop fell into the latter category.

3. A 122
Sculpture of a samurai on horseback, bronze, Japan, late 19th or early 20th centuries, h. 39 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 122.


Elephant-shaped incense burner with an arhat on its back 

The gilded bronze incense burner depicts the Buddhist arhat Kalika riding an elephant. Kalika belongs to the group of the so-called “Eighteen arhats” from the Buddhist Mahayana tradition. Arhats were the first disciples of Siddharta Gautama, the historical Buddha, to reach enlightenment. They are traditionally assigned the role of protecting Buddhist teachings (dharma). The group of 18 arhats is often depicted in temples and in Buddhist art in general.

Kalika is usually represented as a Buddhist sage riding an elephant, reading Buddhist sutras, observing all directions in the sky, and taking care of humanity. The hollow inside of the incense burner is intended for burning incense, and the object is richly decorated with various symbolic Buddhist motifs (the elephant, the scroll in the arhat’s hand, his palm in the position of fearlessness or abhayamudra, etc.). This shows that the censer also had a religious function and was most likely used in domestic religious practices.

In China, the production of incense burners peaked during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) Dynasties. The arhat incense burner was most likely produced in the second half of the 19th century in one of the select few bronze casting workshops in China.


4. A 8
Elephant-shaped incense burner with an arhat on its back, gilded bronze, China, second half of the 19th century (?), h. 20 cm, w. 20.5 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 8.


Figures of a Chinese woman and a Chinese man

The figures are made of painted pottery and date from the 19th century. They were produced in southern China as export goods. They depict the clothing of the upper classes in China during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912).

The female figure is 30 cm tall and is dressed in a traditional upper-class garment. A tiny red shoe (much smaller than those of the male figure) is peeking from under her dress, most likely representing the traditionally bound “lotus” feet. Foot binding was a practice firmly established among Chinese women, while it was not very common among women from other ethnic groups, including Manchu women, members of the ruling Qing Dynasty. The male figure is 32 cm tall and depicts a Qing Dynasty court official wearing a typical winter official’s hat and a long, dragon-decorated mangpao garment. The man is holding a snuff bottle in his right hand.
A peculiar feature of the figurines are their heads, made of a separate piece of pottery. The head of each figure is fastened onto a thin horizontal axis within the neck and attached to a long weight extending into the body. When touched, the head sways and the figure “nods”.

5. A 51
Figures of a Chinese woman and a Chinese man, painted pottery, southern China, 19th century, h. 30 and 32 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 51.


Missionary scroll – art at the junction of cultures and religions

The silk and paper scroll was produced in the second half of the 19th century at the Jesuit Tushanwan orphanage workshops near Shanghai. The presentation of the scroll resembles a Chinese painting, with the images pasted onto a silk base and with round wooden sticks at the top and bottom ends. The scroll consists of three separate images, printed with woodblocks and hand-painted with watercolours. The first and last images are equipped with titles in Chinese, while the middle one bears no inscription. The first of the three images, “The Joy of Heaven” (Tiantang zhi le 天堂之乐), features a scene designed to resemble the genre of depicting “All the Saints” in European Catholic art. The second one, a scene from the “Death of the Righteous” (mort du juste) genre, depicts the interiors of a house with a dying person lying on the bed. The image is untitled, since it was originally part of an illustrated two-page text. The third scene, entitled “Purgatory, we can atone for our sins by good deeds” (Lianzui zhi suo shangong keshu 炼罪之所善功可赎), depicts people in flames along with angels leaning down towards them. Its central part shows the scene of a mass. Next to this, two consecutive scenes of salvation from Purgatory are depicted – the first one features an angel leading a praying man towards the clouds, while the second one portrays two angels and St. Mary the Crowned on the throne with a child. The images that appear in the scroll are identical to those found in the collection of woodcuts by Henry Vasseur (1828–1899), a Jesuit teacher at the Tushanwan workshops.

Zvitek Rgb 3000px
Missionary scroll, paper, silk, wood, China (Shanghai), second half of the 19th century, l. 117 cm, w. 28 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 138.


Two herons under a pine tree

The motif from a folding screen shows two white herons in a pond under a pine tree. In Chinese and Japanese cultures, the heron symbolizes longevity and a path to reach the sky and happiness.

The heron was often depicted along with the lotus, which symbolically implied that the path continues upwards uninterruptedly. The symbolism is derived from a word play – the Chinese name for the “heron” is homonymous with the word meaning “path”, and the lotus is pronounced the same way as the word meaning “continuously”. In Chinese legends, the heron may also appear while accompanying the soul to the sky, thereby symbolizing the path to heaven. It plays a similar role in Japanese culture, which abounds in legends about lovers unhappily in love transforming into spirits of the white heron and dancing by a frozen pond.

Pine trees are a popular motif in Chinese and Japanese art as well. Their perseverance, defiance of the cold, and the fact that their needles never fall off in the winter contributed to their association with longevity, steadfastness, and immortality. As a symbol of rebirth and hope for a bright future, pine trees occupy a special place in celebrations of the Japanese New Year. They attained an even stronger symbolic connotation after the atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II, and more recently after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011.

8 (1)
Two herons under a pine tree, detail from a folding screen, wood, paper, painting, Japan (?), late 19th or early 20th centuries, h. 91 cm, w. 55 cm (central part), w. 110 cm (entire screen), Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 135.



Blue oval fan

The blue fan is one of the most valuable fans kept by Slovenian museums. The dark blue paper is painted with the motif of a teacher and a student sitting under a pine tree by a river, with mountains and a tree in the background on one side, and birds and flowers on the other. The three images are among the most common motifs found in Chinese painting. After all, the word denoting “landscape painting” consists of two characters meaning “mountains and water”, and thereby suggests harmony and a return to nature. Mountains are also associated with religion, as they reach towards the sky, while water flow represents a sense of movement. The people sitting by the river are a teacher and a student, while the lavishly growing pine tree stands as a symbol of perseverance, longevity, and self-discipline. Two blue thrush birds are painted on the other side, one in flight, the other perching on a sprig of morning glory. The blue thrush (qingniao in Chinese) symbolizes happiness and can even represent the messenger of knowledge and enlightenment in Chinese tradition. The pink and white flowering morning glory is a symbol of love, emotion, and mortality, as the flower blooms for one day only and lovers only have such a short time to meet. Sometimes, the morning glory can also represent the month of September or the 11th wedding anniversary. Both sides of the paper are glued to a bamboo frame with an ivory handle, decorated with gold painted birds and flowers.

9. A 64

9.a A 64
Oval fan, painted on both sides, paper, ivory, gilding, China, 19th or early 20th centuries, h. 45 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 64.


Large folding fan

The large-format fan measuring 75.5 cm in height comes from Japan, where fans of the mita ōgi (giant fan) type were used for ceremonies and religious rituals in the past. The paper, attached to the folding brown lacquered sticks, is painted on both sides and features motifs of flowers and birds (kachō-ga in Japanese), very common in Japanese art. One side of the fan is painted with a tree with long branches on a distinctly red background. The branches are covered in white flowers, two cuckoos (hototogisu in Japanese) flying among them. The cuckoo represents summer, unfulfilled love, elusiveness, and sadness. White flowers grow under the tree. The other side of the fan features two quails (uzura in Japanese), drawn on a brown background, hiding in tall grass and behind pink morning glory (asagao in Japanese) flowers. A powerful and fierce bird, the quail symbolizes courage and victory in battle, while the morning glory represents morning beauty and at the same time autumn, transience, mortality, or unrequited love. The sticks of the wooden frame are lacquered in dark brown, with the outer protective stick featuring gold-painted vines, grapes, and a bird. Such large fans were mostly used in the 19th century. We rarely find them even in museums, since they were not very common due to their large size and ritual use. This is the only specimen of such a big Japanese fan in Slovenia.

10. A 82 (1)

10. A 82 (2)
Large folding mita ōgi fan, painted on both sides with motifs of flowers and birds, paper, wooden frame, gilded outer sticks, Japan, 19th century, h. 75.5 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 82.


Lacquer cabinet

The lacquer cabinet consists of a base with a scissor binder and curved legs, and a cabinet with a red lacquered double door. The door is hiding ten drawers of various sizes, decorated in the style of Japanese export lacquerware known as nanban (namban). Nanban originally means “southern barbarians”, which is how Japanese called foreigners from Europe after their first contact with the Portuguese in the 16th century. Nanban lacquerware is characterized by gold painting on black lacquer, often adorned with mother-of-pearl. The decoration on the gold lined drawers feature a European imitation of the technique of spraying gold paint on wet lacquer, known as maki-e.
The motifs include various scenes of landscape and flowers as well as some architectural elements. Some parts feature birds, painted in a rather simple form. The double door is painted with gold on red lacquer; the depictions reveal the Chinese motif of tiered pagodas. The use of both Chinese and Japanese motifs and the disproportionate depiction of individual motifs indicate European production. This is also evident from the curved shape of the legs on the pedestal (cabriole in French), popular in the west in the 18th century.

12 A 74 (1)

12 A 74 (2)
Lacquer cabinet, wood, lacquer, metal, painting, European origin, imitation of Japanese lacquer (japanning), 18th c. (?), h. 111 cm, w. 67 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 74.


Black lacquer table with camellias and sparrows

The black lacquer table exemplifies the style of exported lacquerware from Kyoto-Nagasaki developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It is characterized by a balanced mother-of-pearl decoration and the Japanese technique of spraying gold paint on wet lacquer, known as maki-e. The aesthetic guidelines for these objects were dictated by Dutch employees of the East India Company. After the Portuguese were expelled from Japan in 1639, the Dutch remained the only foreigners from Europe to be allowed to trade with Japanese. However, even they were restricted to a small, artificial island in Nagasaki Bay.

The table bears a depiction of a branch with open camellia flowers and three sparrows. The motif is additionally decorated with mother-of-pearl. The leaves, reddish brown in colour today, were originally covered with gold dust. The camellia, sometimes called the “winter tea rose”, was one of the most important flowers in Japan. With its evergreen leaves and blossoms, it symbolized endurance in winter, and was especially popular among the Japanese aristocracy of the Edo period (1603–1867). The red camellia, which was mostly associated with love and purity, symbolized a noble death for soldiers and the samurai. Floral motifs were often complemented by images of various birds, especially plump sparrows, which were believed to bring good luck since their presence suggested a bountiful harvest.

13 A 80
Black lacquer table with camellias and sparrows, no base, sugi wood (Japanese cedar), urushi lacquer, mother-of-pearl, Nagasaki (?), Japan, second half of the 19th century, d. 55 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 80.


Elongated lacquer fumibako box

The fumibako is an elongated and rounded lacquer box with a gold, bas-relief decoration. It was used for storing and transporting important government and official documents in scrolls. It is made of Paulownia wood, which is light, smooth, and solid, does not absorb water, and has a high flash point. At the lower part of the box, there is a small ring attached to each of the longer sides, through which two braided cords were tied. Bound in a ribbon at the top of the box, these two cords made it impossible for the box to open during transport.

Both the outside and inside of the box feature different coats of arms. The coat of arms on the outside of the box that stands out is decorated in gold and represents the coat of arms of the Tokugawa-aoi or the Tokugawa family, who ruled Japan during the Edo period (1603–1868). The Tokugawa-aoi coat of arms consists of three hollyhock leaves, pointing towards the centre of the circle and symbolizing fidelity. The inside of the box features the coats of arms of individual samurai families, shaped like four pine needles around a circle. The coats of arms are depicted in the traditional technique of applying gold dust to undried lacquered surfaces. Along with other markings on the box, they suggest the object was used for government affairs.

14. A 120

14. A 120 Detajl
Fubako or fumibako, a box for storing office supplies with the motif of the Tokugawa family coat of arms, Paulownia wood, urushi lacquer, gold dust, Japan, late 19th century, h. 13 cm, l. 24 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 120.


Tiered folding jūbako box

The folding lacquer jūbako box consists of four drawers. Traditionally, it was designed for food storage and serving on special occasions such as the Cherry Blossom Festival or the New Year. Nowadays, boxes of the type mostly consist of two or three drawers, and are used especially at New Year’s celebrations to store and serve traditional New Year’s food or osechi-ryōri. One can even find round, hexagonal, and octagonal shapes of jūbako, as well as specimens made of white and blue porcelain in addition to the ordinary wooden ones.

Compared to jūbako boxes commonly used today, this specimen is larger, which suggests it was probably intended for a large group of people. Given its size and several tiers of drawers, we can assume it might have been used to serve food on special occasions at large family gatherings or in temples. On the outside, each side of the box is decorated with repeating floral patterns of vines, bamboo leaves, and cherry blossoms, rendered in the traditional bas-relief technique of applying gold powder to undried lacquered surface. The vines symbolically represent eternity and family, the bamboo leaves success and endurance, and the cherry blossoms beauty and ephemerality.

15. A 125

15. A 125 Detajl
Jūbako food storage box with cherry, bamboo, and vine motifs, sugi wood (Japanese cedar), black urushi lacquer with black dye on the outside, red urushi lacquer with red dye on the inside, gold and blue powder, Japan, second half of the 19th century, l. 43 cm, w. 31 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 125.


Lacquer tray painted with red and gold

The rectangular lacquer tray with rounded edges is painted with red and gold against a black background. It was used for letters and other smaller items. The motifs depict activities inside a garden complex drawn in a stylized way, which were very likely modelled on a scene from an ukiyo-e woodcut template. The tray is made of papier-mâché and lacquered, but this is probably not the Japanese urushi lacquer. On the lower right is found an imitation of the nashiji technique, a subtype of the maki-e technique. The maki-e technique was often used for background patterns, sprinkling gold or silver particles over the surface of the object to which the lacquer had been applied. The tray was most likely produced by a European workshop but designed as an imitation of similar Japanese specimens.

16. A 30
Tray, papier-mâché, lacquer, painting, European origin, late 19th century, l. 27.2 cm, w. 18.9 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 30.


Samurai from the Lemberg Castle


Sode shoulder guards

Each shoulder shield consists of six lamellae lacquered in a red and black striped pattern. The upper lamella was (later?) simply decorated with red and brown dots of irregular shapes, applied to the original black background with a brush. Individual lamellae are tied together with a blue and white cotton cord.

18. A 144 3
Sode shoulder guards, iron, paper, leather, Japanese lacquer, cotton cord, Japan, Edo period (1603–1868), h. 28 cm, w. 26.5 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 144/3.


Hanbō mask

The hanbō iron facial armour with a yodare-kake neck guard is lacquered in black. The neck protector consists of four lamellae tied together with a green, blue and beige cotton cord. A hole has been drilled under the chin of the mask for the purpose of ventilation and sweat drainage. The hooks on the cheeks are intended to additionally fasten the mask to the face with the help of the chin strap attached to the forehead.

19. A 144 8
Hanbō mask, iron, Japanese lacquer, cotton cord, Japan, Edo period (1603–1868), h. 18 cm, w. 16.2 cm (mask), w. 18 cm (neck lamellae), Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 144/8.


Haidate thigh guard

The finely woven brown canvas is lined with leather dyed in green and white and supported with a sewn-on chain of wire rings to which red lacquered metal rod-shaped protective elements and various round floral-ornamented heraldic symbols are attached. The guard can be tied around the waist with a canvas ribbon and fastened around each thigh with a horn button. The label on the inside of the guard bears an inscription in Japanese characters, which reads Tanaka. The latter is a family name originating from western Japan, which denotes someone “coming from the rice field area”.

20. A 144 12
Haidate thigh guard, iron, iron wire, Japanese lacquer, canvas, sackcloth, horn, Japan, Edo period (1603–1868), l. 51 cm, w. 58 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 144/12.


Kote armoured sleeves

Both left and right arm armour sleeves extend lengthwise from shoulders to fingers. The inside is lined with olive green silk, further lined with a layer of coarse dark blue canvas, and finally a layer of finer dark blue canvas. The final layer is further oversewn with a piece of protective chain-mail with small black lacquer oval metal plates and a round plate on each elbow fitted in. The metal finishes on the shoulders, decorated with floral heraldic symbols, and the palm guards, are black lacquered as well. The latter can be fastened to the hands with a dark blue cotton cord or loop placed around the middle finger and the thumb. The shoulder guard on the right sleeve still bears two preserved horn buttons used to attach the sleeve to the armour. The buttons on the left sleeve are no longer preserved, unlike the wrist button. The width of the sleeve is adjusted with a string from the inside, in a way similar to adjusting shoe laces. Both sleeves have a small metal plate attached at shoulder height. The plates feature barely preserved inscriptions in Japanese characters. The latter reveal the personal name of the manufacturer, master Munetaka, and the Myōchin family or armour-making school from Bungo province.

21. A 144 14
Kote armoured sleeves, iron, silk, canvas, leather, horn, Japan, late Edo period, late 18th century or first half of the 19th century, l. 72 cm, w. 20 cm, Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 144/14.


Kabuto helmet

The kabuto helmet is of the ko-zunari type, characterized by a simple calotte shaped to fit the head. All metal parts of the helmet are smoothly coated with black urushi lacquer. The calotte is constructed of larger metal plates. The longest, central plate runs across the middle of the helmet, from the top to the forehead, with two side plates and the front plate riveted to it. The front plate represents the mabizashi visor. Five hanging shikoro lamellae are tied to the calotte with silk ribbons. The shikoro lamellae protected the part from the neck to the shoulders. What is particularly outstanding about the helmet is the shape of the mabizashi visor, the lower edge of which is slightly pointed at the front. A rare addition to the helmet are the stylized eyebrows in the shape of bamboo leaves. The ukebari inner textile lining prevented direct contact between the samurai’s head and the metal of the helmet. The middle of the visor is adorned with a circle symbolizing the sun. The circle was applied on top of the urushi lacquer with gilt. The symbol might be associated with the nichiren Japanese school of Buddhism. Such insignia could serve as a symbolic protection in battle, demonstrate affiliation to a particular clan, and made it possible for the samurai to be distinguished from each other on the battlefield. The time of the helmet’s production coincided with a period of military conflicts and the consequently increased need for battle equipment. This was reflected in an innovative development and design simplifications in order to increase the efficiency of the equipment and enable faster production.

22. A 144 1
Kabuto helmet, iron, copper, silk ribbons, Japanese lacquer, gilding, Japan, Momoyama period (1573–1600), h. 15.8 cm (calotte), d. 34 cm (lamellae), Collection of Objects from Asia and South America, PMC, A 144/1.

Authors: Mina Grčar, Klara Hrvatin, Helena Motoh, Bojan Šibenik, Barbara Trnovec, Nataša Vampelj Suhadolnik, Nataša Visočnik Gerželj, Manca Jedretič, Darian Kocmur, Ruby Knap, Vid Seth Peterson

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