Did you know that samurai came from Japan? Yes you did. But you probably didn’t know about the whole deep art culture that revolves around the samurai warrior. I bet those legendary bushido didn’t expect their armor and weapons to appear in galleries around the world hundreds of years later.
And these types of galleries are intense. I got an interview with Giuseppe Piva, lover of Japanese history, and creator of a massive Japanese samurai armor, weapons and art gallery. Where? In Italy. Japanese culture appreciation is thriving there.
About the Giuseppe Piva Arte Giapponese
This translates to Giuseppe Piva Japanese Art (see, and now we’re learning Italian). I’ve now decided I want an Adshap Arte Giapponese. But that’s for later.
Weapons and armor galore
Among the valuable pieces and fine ancient works, the gallery offers a wide assortment of:
Samurai armors equipped with 兜-kabuto (helms)
面頬 – Menpou (samurai masks/face guards)
日本刀 – Nihonto (handmade swords and katanas from the 16th century)
Accessories related to the martial activities such as scabbards (鞘 – saya) for pole weapons (槍鞘 – Yarisaya) made in wood, laque and horsehair.
矢の根 – Yanone (arrowheads of different shapes and sizes dating back to the Edo period in 1615-1867).
Art beyond battle
In addition to military articles, this gallery also exhibits a number of original:
根付 – Netsuke (mini decorative sculptures attached to the end of a pouch that stores small personal items like money)
墨絵 – Sumi ink paintings on silk or paper accompanied by poems and seals, and erotic or decorative prints
Yamabushi (山伏) trumpet made from a 45 cm shell and belonged to an ascetic monk, and wooden sculptures of different historical periods (from the 14th to the 18th century)
Collection of folding screens (屏風) and kimonos (着物).
But enough description.
Let’s get to the interview with Giuseppe Piva, the gallery director.
Question: Mr. Piva, what are the origins of your passion for antiques and Japanese art? Any particular background?
Answer: It’s a passion born since childhood…a never quitting one!
Q: Please describe your average customer type.
A: Our typical customer is definitely an antique collector. And we are talking about a very passionate collector, with specific expertise and tastes, used to aesthetics that are substantially different from the traditional European or American ones.
Q: If there was one piece of art you could hang in your gallery, what would it be?
A: It is not about a particular article type or category. As you could see, our gallery has a wide range of pieces, belonging to diverse periods and genres. The point might rather relate to that level of quality you can recognise in the artworks displayed by the best international museums. For instance, I could think of a rare folding screen dating back to the 16th century…
Q: How do you select and confirm the various artwork you deal with?
A: Selection has to be rigorous, so that to ensure the authenticity of the piece or artifact, and obviously its preservation status (a fundamental feature!) and overall quality. The choice is also guided by inner interests and by the preference for a peculiar style.
Personally, when it comes to evaluating and purchasing a work, I try to think like a collector.
Indeed, competence and experience should frequently be enriched visiting Japan and its prestigious art exhibitions and museums – as well as the American and European ones.
Q: How do you get to acquire a sculpture of the Nanbokucho period (1336-1392)? I guess it’s not that easy.
A: As with any significant work of art, it is essentially a matter of consolidated connection channels. Especially for Japan and its tradition, culture and values. You’d better get an official introduction by an estimated and reliable person.
Our contacts prefer to know who you are and what kind of professional expertise you have to offer in a transaction. In a sense, they are almost interested in establishing a personal relationship. As for their bond with artworks…it’s not mere business.
Q: Let’s get to Netsuke. Origins? Special meanings? Decorative features?
A: Netsuke originally had a practical function: in the 18th century these small objects, generally made of ivory and wood, were used as counterweights to hang handbags or small boxes at the waist of kimonos (which, as we know, have no pockets). Authentic specimens of this period often show the signs of wear resulting from the fact that they had been handled.
In the golden age of 1800, Netsuke had already acquired the status of a collectors’ item, with the finest pieces characterized by increasingly elaborate sculptural details.
Q: Let me be a little straightforward. Approximately, how much would it cost to purchase a Japanese antique, for example a full armor (obviously talking of an authentic one)?
A: To be honest, the true value does not depend on the article type. Not even the historical period is that crucial.
Relevant factors are the overall quality of the artwork and the artistic value of its author. “Old” does not necessarily mean “valuable.” As for contemporaries, also artists of old had different levels of quality.
That said, the range can be very broad: the price of a “simple” Netsuke may go from about 300 euros to over 100,000!
Expand your knowledge
I love these area of Japanese that you don’t get a chance to think much about. History is so connected to the language itself, and getting a little experience makes all the difference. I bet you’ve already learned a whole bunch of new words just from this article.
And if you live in Italy, or are visiting, check out the gallery. Tell him you came from Japanese Level Up and maybe they’ll let you wear the armor and battle each other with ancient weapons… (No, not likely.)
And I’ve said it before (not out loud), but when the zombie apocalypse comes, the Japanese katana is better than a gun, and Japanese armor prevents bites, so you might want to get yourself stocked up.
Note: Interview by Andrea Gastaldon – MM One Group (If it was done by me, it would’ve required a るろうに剣心 and Samurai Champloo reference, a bunch of unrelated questions on kicking ass samurai style, and a few hypotheticals about Son Goku being a samurai)