Kanazawa — Aux sources d’une culture de samouraïs


Ceramic, print, painting, mixed media

Aux sources d’une culture de samouraïs

Past: October 2 → December 14, 2013

Kanazawa, situated on the coast of the Sea of Japan, was once the capital of the Kaga fief. This fief, the greatest in Japan, was ruled from the mid-sixteenth century by the powerful Maeda clan who encouraged a flourishing of the arts. The Maeda lords favoured the development of the tea ceremony and Noh Theatre, essential for diplomatic relations between warriors, and welcomed the greatest craftmasters from Edo (now Tokyo) and Kyoto. During a long period of peace in Japan, the Kanazawa Samurai successfully established their own culture, distinct from that of Edo, seat of the shogun government. Although warriors’armour, swords and helmets are of course shown at this exhibition, there are also a significant number of art exhibits associated with the tea ceremony (ceramics, calligraphy…) as well as with Noh Theatre, its splendid masks and kimonos. A huge selection of luxurious handcrafts — dyed fabrics, maki-e laquer, goldsmith work, ceramics — are also on show.

The Maeda, Lords of Kaga Fief and their Vassals

In the second half of the sixteenth century, support for Oda Nobunaga and afterwards for Toyotomi Hideyoshi — the two greatest war chiefs of the era — earned Maeda Toshiie (1538-1599) estates in the province of Kaga. He was the first of fourteen lords who succeeded to the leadership of the great fief of Kaga. The city of Kanazawa developed at the base of the castle in which he resided and its population included a great many vassals as well as merchants and craftspeople. With more than 100,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the eighteenth century it was the fourth largest city in the country after Edo, Osaka and Kyoto. This part of the exhibition offers an opportunity to discover objects which belonged to the Maeda clan as well as to families of high-ranking vassals.

The Blossoming of Culture in Kaga

The Tea Ceremony

During the sixteenth century, when Japan was prey to incessant warfare, the tea ceremony began to be valued by high-ranking Samurai. It was an opportunity for these warriors to reinforce their bonds, to prepare themselves for combat and to relax. Some Maeda lords learned this art from the famous masters of tea, Sen no Rikyû and Kobori Enshû. Others gathered magnificent collections of ceramic bowls, kettles and other utensils for the tea ceremony. This is why Kanazawa became an important centre for chado, the tea route. “Exceptional artefacts” used by the Maeda clan, as well as an assortment of utensils collected by their vassals’ families, are exhibited here along with items for tea ceremonies held in honour of important guests. Lastly, an intimate tea ceremony is reconstructed in which utensils in the “stripped down” style, known as wabi are presented.

The World of Noh.

Noh, a form of theatre created at the end of the fourteenth century, developed under the protection of the shogun and high ranking warriors. This art form, which is refined to the extreme, combines song, dance and music. Maeda Toshiie, the first lord of Kaga, appeared himself on the Noh stage under the auspices of the powerful Toyotomi Hideyoshi. His descendants were also great amateurs of this art. They learned Noh from a young age, recruited actors from amongst the merchants and craftspeople of Kanazawa, organised performances for official ceremonies… As an essential element of diplomacy between warriors, just like the tea ceremony, Noh became fashionable amongst members of the clan and powerful townsmen. A glimpse into the pomp of the world of Noh is possible thanks to a rich range of objects belonging to the Maeda clan : costumes, masks and accessories.

Handicrafts of Kaga

The manufacture of armour demanded the skills of high quality craftsmanship : goldsmith work, lacquer and dyed fabrics. For this reason the best craftsmens from Edo and Kyoto were invited to Kaga to pass on their knowledge. The weaver dyers of Kaga drew inspiration from the yuzen technique imported from Kyoto in order to create their own fabrics with coloured motifs. They soon surpassed Kyoto in producing excellence as the exhibited kimonos and decorative rolls of cloth prove. In similar vein it is the engravers of Kyoto who permitted the development of Kaga damascening, a technique which uses metalwork, particularly in the decoration of armour. In the middle of the seventeenth century the technique of oven baking was introduced in the village of Kutani, not far from the fief of Kaga, by potters coming from Arita, a town in Kyushu renowned for its multi-coloured porcelain. This is the origin of the coloured ceramics typical of Kanazawa called ko-Kutani. In carrying on this tradition Kanazawa remains today a region which is still exceptionally rich in handicrafts.

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101 bis, quai Branly

75015 Paris

T. 01 44 37 95 01



Opening hours

Tuesday – Saturday, noon – 8 PM

Admission fee

7€ / With concession : 5€