Published: April 29, 2008
The Bowers Museum presents “Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor,” the largest loan of terra cotta figures and significant artifacts to ever travel to the United States from the tomb complex of China’s first emperor, Shi Huangdi (259′10 BC). The exhibition opens May 18 and runs through October 12.
Considered one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the Twentieth Century, the first emperor’s enormous mausoleum features thousands of terra cotta warriors that were intended to protect him throughout eternity. Since their discovery, the terra cotta army has captured the attention of the world and has often been termed the “eighth wonder of the world.” The exhibition provides deeper knowledge of this historical site and showcases 120 sets of objects, which includes approximately 20 complete life-size terra cotta figures representing all aspects of the emperor’s army.
Co-organized by the Bowers Museum, Houston Museum of Natural Science and National Geographic Society Museum, and guest curator Dr Albert E. Dien, professor emeritus, Stanford University, the exhibition features the iconic terra cotta warriors alongside recently excavated sculptures of court officials, acrobats, generals and bronze birds. The objects were drawn from 11 different collections in and near Xi’an, China.
In 1974, a small group of farmers digging a well near the town of Lintong made a startling discovery of a terra cotta head. When archaeologists began excavating the area, they uncovered an astonishing scene: an immense subterranean vault containing long columns of life-size terra cotta warriors with armor, chariots and horses standing in battle formation. The discovery subsequently led to scientific excavations that unearthed more than 1,000 life-size figures in three underground pits and up to 7,000 figures may be found in the future.
Construction of the first emperor’s tomb took 38 years and began soon after he became king of the state of Qin. Although the tomb mound was visible aboveground, the terra cotta figures were a surprise when discovered because they had not been previously documented. It is estimated that more than 1,000 people were divided into 87 teams to produce the terra cotta warriors. They were all made by hand in assembly-line fashion, and each figure has a different facial expression and serves a unique purpose.
Kneeling Archer is portrayed in full battle regalia and looks straight ahead with a firm gaze. Entertainers, such as acrobats, were recently unearthed in 1999. These figures are more expressive than the warriors and are depicted in active poses with short kilts. In 2002, several life-size bronze birds were excavated and reveal the same delicacy as the human figures. Crane exemplifies the bird’s beauty as it stands with a S-shaped neck, looking downward to catch a small fish.
The Bowers Museum is at 2002 North Main Street. For information, 714-567-3600 or www.bowers.org .
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