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Exhibitions/ Arms and Armor

Arms and Armor: Notable Acquisitions 1991–2002

September 4, 2002–January 18, 2004

Exhibition Overview

This exhibition celebrates more than a decade of acquisitions made since the reinstallation of the Arms and Armor Galleries in 1991. The new acquisitions complement and build upon the Museum's encyclopedic collection, which comprises more than fourteen thousand objects from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and America. Highlights of the exhibition include richly decorated armor and weapons connected with two kings of France, a king of Sweden, and a future king of England, several members of the ruling Medici family of Florence, a hero of the American Revolution, and two sultans of Turkey.

Several rare examples of Tibetan arms and armor are being shown for the first time, including a ceremonial sword of the fourteenth to sixteenth century made of steel, gold, and silver; lavish mounts for a fifteenth-century saddle of pierced and chiseled iron covered in gold and set with lapis lazuli and turquoise; elements of a richly decorated mid-fifteenth- to early seventeenth-century ceremonial horse armor (the remains of the most elaborate horse armor known from Tibet); and an extremely rare cane shield of the fourteenth to sixteenth century with iron fittings that recall those found on other examples of Tibetan decorative arts.

Important additions have 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 pistol 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 yataghan (a Turkish short sword with a double-curved blade and a guardless hilt) which dates from about 1525–30 and is one of the earliest known examples of this kind of weapon. Almost identical to another yataghan 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 Tsugaru family.

The exhibition catalogue is made possible by The Evelyn Sharp Foundation.