Cuirass of a Dō-maru


On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 377

The sixteenth century marks a period in Japanese history that was disrupted by political upheaval, warlordism, and nearly constant military conflicts, bringing along significant changes in armor and in the way battles were fought. In previous periods, higher ranking Samurai mainly fought on horseback and wore a type of armor optizimed for this use: the heavy box shaped Ō-yoroi. In the turbulent sixteenth century, however, even warlords had to be prepared to fight on foot and thus favored so lighter, closer fitting armors like this Dō-maru (lit. “body wrap”) shown here, which allowed a much greater freedom of movement than the Ō-yoroi.

One such warlord was Date Masamune (1567-1636), who was known for having a particular interest in armor. As a consequence, he often rewarded his retainers not with swords, as it was common at that time, but with armor. In 1594, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the then most powerful man in Japan to whom Date Masamune had pledged allegiance, was tripling taxes on local miners. The resulting uprising was suppressed by one of Masamune’s retainers, Shiraishi Bungo, who was also able to convince Hideyoshi that the revolt was not initiated by Masamune, as forwarded by a local group of conspirators. For this achievement, Date Masamune rewarded Shiraishi with this Dō-maru armor, which remained in the possession of the Shiraishi family ever since until it was acquired by Bashford Dean in 1905 directly from the then head of the family, Shiraishi Tokitoshi.

This Dō-maru is an excellent example of a late Muromachi period (1392-1573) close fitting armor of a high ranking warrior. The suit is in superb condition and is laced in an unobtrusive earth tone color scheme, reflecting the sober taste of the time which is in stark contrast to the flamboyant styles that emerged in the subsequent Momoyama period (1573-1615).

Cuirass of a <i>Dō-maru</i>, Iron, leather, lacquer, silk, gilt copper, Japanese

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