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A Japanese Connection in the Italian Garden Pools

Posted on 08/13/2018 by Amy Dangelico

Chihuly at Biltmore—the first art exhibition in Biltmore’s historic gardens and the first garden exhibition of Dale Chihuly’s works in North Carolina—showcases large-scale glass sculptures throughout the grounds of America’s Largest Home®.

Niijima Floats by artist Dale Chihuly as part of Chihuly at Biltmore

One of the must-see displays of this exciting exhibition in is the Italian Garden, where five different installations are set throughout its three pools, including Niijima Floats, named for the island of Niijima in Tokyo Bay, Japan.

Koi swimming in the Italian Garden pools

Coincidentally, this unique installation exists alongside another Japanese connection: the colorful koi that populate the Italian Garden pools. While we don’t know exactly when the koi were introduced to the pools, we do know that George Vanderbilt had a fascination with their nation of origin: Japan.

Invitation to Emperor of Japan's birthday celebration, 1892

In fact, in 1892, George Vanderbilt and his cousin, Clarence Barker, toured countless temples and other cultural sites during their trip to Japan—a trip which begin with an invitation to attend the Emperor’s birthday celebration.

Pagoda at Horinji-Nara. Photo purchased by George Vanderbilt, 1892

Around the turn of the century, many Americans thought Japan and its culture were exotic and rooted in tradition, offering a blend of spirituality and aesthetic beauty. To George Vanderbilt, deeply interested in history, the arts, and collecting, the allure must have been irresistible.

Samurai armor from Japan’s Edo period (1615-1868); purchased by George Vanderbilt, 1892

Of course, antiques shops and art dealers were part of the itinerary as George Vanderbilt eventually shipped 32 cases of art and decorative objects back to America. Among his purchases were:

  • Satsuma ceramics, including a koro or ceremonial incense burner, for $85—a significant sum more than 125 years ago
  • Two suits of samurai armor along with spears and swords
  • Netsuke—miniature sculptures originally used as kimono toggles
  • Bronze sculptures
  • Lacquer boxes and sculptures
  • Varied screens and fans
  • Bamboo curtains
  • 1,000 festive paper lanterns

Visit now through October 7 to experience Chihuly at BiltmoreAfter strolling through the exhibition, we invite you to to discover The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village to view the Samurai armor and other treasures George Vanderbilt collected during his travels as part of our The Vanderbilts at Home and Abroad.

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