I visited the Chinese Warriors at the NGV on the 1st of October. Before going I looked up the story on Wikepeida here. It’a quite an amazing story. These figures were made in the 3rd century BCE but only discovered in 1974 by local farmers digging a water well in Lintong County outside Xi’an, Shaanxi, China.
They depict the army of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang and were buried with the emperor to protect him in the afterlife. In total there are 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots and 150 chariot horses and 520 other horses. Most are still buried in pits near the emperor’s mausoleum. It’s estimated that some 700,000 workers were involved in the making of these figures.
Which are all life sized and varying in height, uniform and hairstyle according to rank. They were originally painted but their coloured coating disintegrated within minutes of being exposed to the air. The faces were made using at least ten different face moulds and then clay was used to give them all different looks. The first exhibition of a small number of warriors outside of China was at the NGV here in Melbourne in 1982.
In the history written a century after it by Sima Qian, it is said the craftsmen who constructed the tomb and knew of the treasure contained within were sealed inside it and killed so that they wouldn’t divulge this knowledge.
Here is an armoured general. The generals are bigger than the ordinary soldiers and have a distinctive hat. This one is the biggest in the exhibition. He has a distinguished beard and moustache and displays a stance of importance.
The standing archers are described as having the most elegant and dramatic stances of all the terracotta warriors.. he stares intently into the distance as if following the flight of an arrow just released from his bow. Displaying the topknot and braiding of a warrior, he wears a simple gown that allows freedom of movement.
This is an armoured military officer. He is ten centimetres shorter than the generals. They typically have a facial expression that is usually less authoritative, and a hesitant posture, as if waiting to receive an order.
This fellow is a civil official. See how his hands are covered by the long sleeves of his robe. There were twelve of these discovered. They were there to look after government and civil affairs in the afterlife. They all feature moustaches and a small tuft of chin hear and wear small hats believed to symbolise their status as officials.
And here is a chariot horse. The holes on each side are there to prevent cracking and he has a detachable tail! I thought this photo might give a better view of that disposable feature, but as you can see it was only a very small tail!
This is a replica of a chariot that was found six years after the warriors. It’s a replica because the original had been squashed when the box in which it had been buried collapsed and the earth tumbled over them. There were two of these light, open battlefield chariots that would have been used for battle or for the emperor to inspect his troops. Exquisite.
Whilst I found the warriors interesting I was more taken with the intricate objects that were on display. Both the decorative and the practical. Such wonderful craftwork. This is a belt plaque from the Western Han dynasty, 207 BCE – 9CE. Gold, jade, agate, turquoise.
And this bronze kettle from somewhere between 475-221 BCE was probably used to serve wine (and) features a handle and spout in the form of mythological creatures and a surface with geometric serpent designs.
This is an elaborate body adornment set (pei) from the Western Zhou dynasty, 1046-771 BCE. It would have been worn around the neck or suspended from the waist and its rattling noise was deemed to dispel evil. It comprises more than 200 inticately carved jade amulets featuring geometric designs and dragon motifs which are separated by agate beads.
This bronze goose was found in the tomb complex of hte emperor Qin Shihuang. It was found in a large pleasure garden with an artificial lake. Along a sixty-metre stretch of adjoining riverbank where water would previously have flowed, forty-six realistically crafted and originally coloured life-size bronze birds, including swans, cranes and geese were discovered.
The Han dynasty which succeeded the Qin dynasty created similar tombs with model armies and attendants to provide protection in the afterlife. However the Han reduced taxes and assigned labour, moderated their scale of tomb construction and reduced the physical demands placed on civilians. Which led to it lasting for more than 400 years. Here are some examples of their funerary sculptures; much smaller in scale than the terracotta warriors.
But most of all I loved this female attendant which was excavated from the Yangling tomb of the fourth Han emperor, Jing. Her rounded shoulders are typical of a Han dynasty beauty…. The position of her hands, concealed in her sleeves, elegant stance and gentle expression suggest that she is waiting to attend the imperial household members.
After the antiquity of these figures the work of the contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang was a stark contrast. His work was inspired by the history, places and culture of the first Chinese emperor Qin. Here are pictures of his installation Murmuration (Landscape) that don’t do it justice.