The collection of armor, edged weapons, and firearms in The Metropolitan Museum of Art ranks with those of the other great armories of the world, in Vienna, Madrid, Dresden, and Paris. It consists of approximately 15,000 objects that range in date from about 400 B.C. to the nineteenth century. Though Western Europe and Japan are the regions most strongly represented�the collection of more than five thousand pieces of Japanese armor and weapons is the finest outside Japan�the geographical range of the collection is extraordinary, with examples from the Near East, the Middle East, India, Central Asia, China, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and North America. The focus is on outstanding craftsmanship and decoration�that is, items often intended solely for display rather than for actual use, from minute ornamental sword fittings to full suits of armor.
Highlights from the Department of Arms and Armor are presented online and are organized first by country of origin and, within countries, chronologically.
More about the Department and Its Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art received its first examples of arms and armor in 1881. Thanks to a substantial group of Japanese arms and armor and a major private collection of European arms and armor, both acquired by purchase in 1904, the Museum's collection quickly achieved international recognition. This led to the establishment of a separate Department of Arms and Armor in 1912, which remains the only one of its kind in the United States.
Elaborate armor and martial accoutrements were for many centuries, and in many parts of the world, among the most essential trappings of high-ranking rulers and warriors. The Department of Arms and Armor thus spans a wide range of cultures, one of the widest in the Museum (arms and armor from ancient Egypt, classical Greece and Rome, the ancient Near East, and Africa, Oceania, and the Americas are exhibited with their respective curatorial departments). Expertly fashioned armor and weapons are closely allied to contemporary nonmilitary design and craftsmanship and thus reflect the art-historical developments of their time, place, and culture of origin. Often embellished with precious metals and jewels, the finest examples proclaimed the wearer's or bearer's social status, wealth, and taste.
The Metropolitan is especially renowned for its Japanese holdings, dating from the fifth to the nineteenth century, and for its European holdings�late-medieval pieces as well as a superb series of tournament and parade armors from the Renaissance. Notable among these are five armors made in the English royal workshops at Greenwich for Tudor courtiers; a magnificent helmet inspired by the Antique that is the masterpiece of Filippo Negroli, one of the finest Milanese armorers of the sixteenth century; and a sumptuous armor covered with representations of foliage, human figures, and grotesques worked in low relief, made for King Henry II of France.
Galleries are also devoted to American arms from the colonial era to the late nineteenth century and to arms from various Islamic cultures, including a distinguished series of decorated armor from fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Iran and Anatolia and jewel-studded weapons from the Ottoman Turkish and Mughal Indian courts.
Always among the Museum's most popular attractions, the Arms and Armor Galleries were renovated and reinstalled in 1991 to display to better effect the outstanding collection of armor and weapons of sculptural and ornamental beauty from around the world. Many objects were cleaned and restored in the course of this refurbishment, notably some late-fifteenth-century German shields, from which as many as five layers of paint were removed to recover their original emblems.