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Recent Acquisitions of Arms and Armor Displayed at Metropolitan Museum

September 4, 2002-June 29, 2003
Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Gallery

Some 60 of the most important examples of armor, weapons, firearms, and martial accoutrements acquired by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the last decade will be shown this fall. Opening to the public on September 4, Arms and Armor: Notable Acquisitions 1991-2002 will be the inaugural exhibition in the newly named Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Gallery.

Dedicated by the Board of Trustees in January 2002, the gallery is named in honor of the Chairman Emeritus of The New York Times Company, who joined the Metropolitan's Board of Trustees in 1968 and served as its Chairman for 11 years before retiring in 1999. Since 1970, Mr. Sulzberger has also been Chairman (currently Co-chairman) of the Department of Arms and Armor's Visiting Committee, and he spearheaded the fundraising campaign for the refurbishment of the Arms and Armor Galleries in the Museum's Pierpont Morgan Wing in 1988-1991.

Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, commented: "By focusing on the acquisitions in a single curatorial department over the period of a decade, the exhibition demonstrates how a comprehensive collection such as the Metropolitan's continues to grow through a program of judicious acquisitions. Because of the generosity of a great number of friends – such as Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, for whom a gallery has been named – the Museum regularly acquires excellent works in all the areas in which we collect. The example of 'Punch' Sulzberger – who attributes his lifelong commitment to the Museum to a boyhood fascination with the works on display in the Arms and Armor Galleries – is mirrored by every visitor who comes here and every donor who supports the Museum's mission."

The exhibition celebrates more than a decade of collecting by the Department of Arms and Armor, since the reinstallation of its galleries in 1991. The new acquisitions complement and build upon the Museum's encyclopedic collection, which comprises more than 14,000 objects from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and America. Highlights of the exhibition include richly decorated armor and weapons of two kings of France, the king of Sweden, and a future king of England, several members of the ruling Medici family of Florence, a hero of the American Revolution, two sultans of Turkey, and the Tokugawa shoguns of Japan.

Several rare examples of Tibetan arms and armor, a newly explored area of collecting, will be shown for the first time. These include: a ceremonial sword of the 14th to 16th century – made of steel, gold, and silver – in which Tibetan and Chinese symbols and design elements are combined; lavish mounts for a mid-15th-century saddle of pierced and chiseled iron covered in gold and set with lapis lazuli and turquoise; elements of a richly decorated mid-15th- to early 17th-century ceremonial horse armor – the remains of the most elaborate horse armor known from Tibet – made of leather elaborated with stencil-cut and glazed gold leaf, and pierced steel filigree; and an extremely rare cane shield of the 14th to 16th century with iron fittings that recall those found on other examples of Tibetan decorative arts.

Important additions have also been made to the Museum's small collection of American firearms. One of them is an extremely long (77 inches) flintlock gun, known as a Hudson Valley fowler, that was carried during the American Revolution by Sergeant John Dean (1755-1816), who assisted in the capture of Major André, thereby saving West Point from falling to the British. One of the most important gifts ever made to the Department of Arms and Armor is the gold inlaid Colt Third Model Dragoon revolver by the renowned gunmaker Samuel Colt (1814-1862) and the engraver Gustave Young (1827-1895). One of a pair, this revolver was separated from its mate in 1854, during the Crimean War, when Colt presented one gun to Czar Nicholas I (now in the collection of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia) and the other (the Metropolitan's) to Sultan Abdülmecid I of Turkey. An icon in the field of American arms, this revolver exhibits elegant engraving that includes crisp scrollwork and such patriotic motifs as a bust of George Washington and the arms of the United States.

A dazzling pair of silver-embellished flintlock pistols by the distinguished London gunmaker Samuel Brunn (active 1795-1820) ranks among the most lavishly embellished Neoclassical English firearms known. Reputedly made for the Prince Regent, later King George IV, these pistols feature barrels and locks of blued steel engraved and gold-inlaid with trophies of arms and foliage, stocks of engraved sheet-silver inlay, and heavy cast and chased silver mounts whose decoration is based on classical gems and even a motif derived from an ancient Roman wall painting excavated at Herculaneum.

Another important acquisition is an exquisite yatagan (a Turkish short sword with a double-curved blade and a guardless hilt) which dates from about 1525-1530 and is one of the earliest known examples of this kind of sword. Almost identical to another yatagan made several years earlier for Süleyman the Magnificent (now in Topkapi Palace, Istanbul), the Metropolitan's princely weapon is a microcosm of the Ottoman luxury arts, bringing together the talents of the bladesmith, ivory carver, goldsmith, and jeweler.

The Museum's collection of Japanese arms and armor, which is considered to be the most comprehensive outside Japan, has been augmented by a number of important works. Among these is a dagger blade by one of the most famous Japanese swordsmiths, Rai Kunitoshi (active ca. 1290-1320), which is inscribed with his name and forged with a surface resembling wood grain. A unique Edo-period armor has also been acquired, which is distinguished by iron surfaces covered with a rare silver lacquer and with lacings of highly unusual coloring. A samurai commander's panoply would not be complete without a signaling baton, such as the Museum's example, having gold mounts and bearing the mon (heraldic badge) of the ruling Tokugawa family.

In addition to the objects on view in the Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Gallery, several recent acquisitions will be displayed in the Arms and Armor Galleries, where they are shown in contextual settings. Specially designed labels will identify these works.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated checklist, published by the Metropolitan Museum, which will be available in the Museum's Book Shops.

This publication is made possible by The Evelyn Sharp Foundation.

In conjunction with the exhibition, a variety of educational programs has been planned. These include a lecture, films, and gallery talks for general visitors, a family program, and activities for students and teachers.

The Web site for the Metropolitan (www.metmuseum.org) will feature the exhibition.

The installation is organized by Stuart W. Pyhrr, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Curator in Charge; Donald J. LaRocca, Curator; and Morihiro Ogawa, Senior Research Associate, Department of Arms and Armor.

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July 31, 2002

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