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This article was published 21/5/2012 (3321 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
MONTREAL - Lacquered in gold, the armour of the noble samurai Edo glistens in the spotlight. His imposing helmet, adorned with fake water buffalo horns, makes him just as intimidating now as he was several hundred years ago.
The general is part of one of the largest private collections of Japanese works of art in the world and is on display at Pointe-a-Calliere, the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, courtesy of samurai aficionado Richard Beliveau.
''Samurai: The Prestigious Collection of Richard Beliveau'' presents more than 400 unique items displaying the various facets of the lives of the samurai.
Beliveau’s vast collection is exposed to the public for the first time in all its glory: 19 complete suits of armour, 33 masks, 25 helmets and a variety of other masterpieces make up the ensemble of ancient Japanese culture.
A well-known figure in Quebec, Beliveau is a collector, university professor, researcher and director of the Molecular Medicine Laboratory.
His samurai fascination dates back to when he was 11. He purchased the first item in his collection when he was 15.
''Since then, I have remained captivated by their esthetic sensibility and code of honour,'' he said in an interview.
The samurai code — Bushido — has highly influenced Beliveau's private and professional lives. His work as a researcher and his commitment to fight cancer parallels the warrior code of the samurai.
''Cancer is the enemy to beat, and to win it takes imagination, skill and perseverance — values inextricably linked to the samurai spirit,” he said.
The pieces he has acquired come from all over the world. Some were bought from museums, like a small ceramic bowl while others were given to him in exchange for his participation in conferences.
He calls those his ''hunting trophies.''
The incredible condition in which these pieces are maintained beckons the question: how did Beliveau manage to preserve his items in what looks like mint condition, considering some of the objects date as far back as the 13th century?
''Many of these were passed down from generation to generation, and were kept in boxes, so they remain in excellent condition.''
He also clarified that most of the suits of armour come from high-ranking generals who rode horses and were superior warriors, and thus were hit less often.
Beliveau doesn't buy just anything. He considers himself a picky collector.
''I only buy items, such as suits of armour, after I've examined a few hundred first,” he said.
Beliveau showed off his collection with the enthusiasm of a child and the pride of a loving father, becoming animated whenever he spoke of the history of a piece, or its rarity.
A series of red masks, a colour used to show ferocity and intimidate enemies, is part of one of the world’s rarest collections of this particular mask.
He also owns a variety of rare swords, some of which are made up of two types of steel, containing both high and low amounts of carbon. This combination makes the blade incredibly sharp.
His swords are both flexible, to sustain impact with another blade, and powerful enough to cut through a human body without problem.
"Its properties reflect the nature of the samurai," Beliveau said.
Francine Lelievre, executive director of the museum, talked about the esthetic quality of the collection as a whole.
''Not only is it an incredible collection, one of the most important in the world, but these are works of art,'' she said.
''The samurai’s deployment is responsible for the spread of Japanese culture.''
One stunning example of art is a scroll that was painted just seconds before a samurai committed seppuku, or the act of ritual suicide by disembowelment. Beliveau explained that the warrior’s tradition stipulated that one had to prove his hand was still stable, even moments before his death.
A book entitled ''Samurai. Exquisite Warriors,'' written by Beliveau, features photos of his collection.
The exhibit is presented until March 31, 2013. It is among 20 major events to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Pointe-a-Calliere.
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If you go:The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday until June 24; it will then also be open on Mondays until Labour Day.
Admission is $16 for an adult; $12 for those 65 and over; $9.50 for students between 18 and 25; $9 for students between 13 and 17; $6.50 for children between the ages of six and 12; children five and under get in for free.
For a family (one adult and three children, or two adults and two children), the cost is $32.
The prices will rise in mid-June because another exhibit will be added.