Ten life-size terracotta figures, including warriors and a cavalry horse, that protected the tomb of China’s First Emperor will march into Richmond as part of Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China, which opens at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts this weekend.
The exhibition will showcase more than 130 works of art, drawn from the collections of 14 art museums and archaeological institutes across the Shaanxi province in China, and will tell the story of how the Qin state developed into an empire under Ying Zheng (259-210 BC), who unified China and declared himself Qin Shihuang, or the First Emperor of Qin. His journey to immortality began soon after he became the king of Qin in 246 BC. Terracotta Army, which includes more than 40 objects never shown before in the United States, will be on display at VMFA from November 18th, 2017 to March 11th, 2018.
The terracotta figures to be on view at VMFA were among the estimated 8,000 life-size sculptures of warriors, chariots, and horses that were discovered in 1974 by local farmers in Lintong District, outside Xi’an, in the Shaanxi province of China. The farmers found pottery shards and bronze arrows while digging a well, but further excavation led to the astonishing discovery of the Terracotta Army, in three pits one mile east of the burial site of the First Emperor. In 1987, UNESCO designated the mausoleum complex as a World Heritage Site. Not all of the figures have been excavated.
Presented in three sections, Terracotta Army will explore the rise of the First Emperor, the history of the Qin state, and the emperor’s quest for immortality. The exhibition will feature arms and armor, horse and chariot fittings, ritual bronze vessels, works in gold and silver, jade ornaments, precious jewelry, ceramics, and architectural components that were excavated from the Emperor Qin Shihuang’s mausoleum, as well as aristocratic, commoner, and nomadic tombs. Dating from the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BC) through the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC), these objects reflect the complex history, myths and burial customs of ancient China and explore the First Emperor’s profound influence on Chinese history, art, and culture.
“The Terracotta Army is one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. In our 80-year history, Terracotta Army will be the first exhibition organized by VMFA that is devoted to the art and archaeology of ancient China,” VMFA Director Alex Nyerges said. “From the featured objects, our audience will learn about the First Emperor’s political and cultural innovation and legacy, as well as gain a better understanding about ancient Chinese cultural history as part of world civilization.”
The exhibition is organized by VMFA and the Cincinnati Art Museum, in partnership with Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau, Shaanxi History Museum (Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center), and Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum of the People’s Republic of China. The exhibition is curated by Li Jian, VMFA’s E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of East Asian Art, and Hou-mei Sung, Curator of Asian Art at the Cincinnati Art Museum, where the exhibition will travel after it closes at VMFA.
“I believe this exhibition will provide a great opportunity for American audiences to understand the daily life of Qin people and the visual culture of the empire more than 2,000 years ago. This exhibition actively promotes cultural exchange between China and the United States, and increases understanding and friendship between peoples of both nations,” said Dr. Zhao Rong, Director of the Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau.
“The legacy of the First Emperor is enormous, including administration, law, language, art, architecture, interstate roadways, and the Great Wall,” Li Jian said. “Our exhibition is organized to bring our audience a better understanding of Qin history, and ancient Chinese art and archaeology.”
Timed admission tickets for the exhibition are now on sale. The exhibition is free for VMFA members, children ages 6 and under, and active-duty military personnel and their immediate families; $20 for adults, $16 for seniors 65+, and $10 for youth ages 7-17 and college students with ID. Visitors can reserve tickets online here or by phone at 804.340.1405.