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Legendary Samurai

For seven centuries, Japan was ruled by samurai, the warrior class. Over the course of this unique national history, the samurai have exerted a powerful and enduring grip on the Japanese imagination. Their exploits, first recounted by wandering minstrels and later recorded in literature, drama, and art, are often seen as morality tales or models for behavior. There is also an insatiable desire to understand warriors as distinct individuals through biographical details that illuminate their grand, romantic lives and explain their victories or defeats. Today, the Japanese public’s enthusiasm for samurai stories is met with countless novels, TV dramas, films, and computer games, many of which have found audiences in the West. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the medium of popular culture was the woodblock print. Colorful, dramatic, and affordable, prints played a key role in shaping not only Japanese but also Western perceptions of the samurai as complex and even conflicted characters. The 26 prints in this exhibition were selected to introduce some of the most famous warriors of the twelfth through sixteenth centuries, as well as varied moods and perspectives. In these prints we find portraits of heroes and cowards, men who conquered as well as men who lost, and men who are remembered as musicians and poets as well as fighters.

Exhibition dates: September 14, 2013-January 12, 2014