ART FROM ANCIENT LANDS

Set of Fifteen Western Han Painted Terracotta Warriors - H.1073
Origin: China
Circa: 206 BC to 9 AD
Dimensions: 20" (50.8cm) high
Collection: Chinese
Style: Western Han Dynasty
Medium: Painted Terracotta

The overextension of the labor force during the Qin Dynasty would result in a popular uprising against the empire. In 206 B.C., Liu Bang, a Qin official, led an army composed of peasants and some lower nobility to victory and established his own Dynasty in place, the Han. However, unlike the Qin, the Han would unify China and rule virtually uncontested for over four hundred years. It is during this time that much of what is now considered to be Chinese culture was first actualized. The bureaucracy started under the Qin was now firmly established. The vast lands of China were now under the firm grip of a central authority. Confucianism became the state ideology although the worship of Taoist deity remained widespread, both among the peasants and the aristocracy. Ancient histories and texts were analyzed and rewritten to be more objective while new legendary myths and cultural epics were transcribed.

The Han era can also be characterized as one of the greatest artistic outpourings in Chinese history, easily on par with the glories of their Western contemporaries, Greece and Rome. Wealth pouring into China from trade along the Silk Road initiated a period of unprecedented luxury. Stunning bronze vessels were created, decorated with elegant inlaid gold and silver motifs. Jade carvings reached a new level of technical brilliance. But perhaps the artistic revival of the Han Dynasty is nowhere better represented than in their sculptures and vessels that were interred with deceased nobles. Called mingqi, literally meaning “spirit articles,” these works depicted a vast array of subject, from warriors and horses to ovens and livestock, which were buried alongside the dead for use in the next world, reflecting the Chinese belief that the afterlife was an extension of our earthy existence. Thus, quite logically, the things we require to sustain and nurture our bodies in this life would be just as necessary in our next life.

This remarkable set, composed of fifteen individually modeled and painted warriors, is a type of work known as mingqi. This army of sculpted warriors was discovered buried in the tomb of an elite member of the upper strata of Western Han society. Discovered outside of modern X’ian, the site of the ancient capital of China, Chang’an, this tomb find recalls the famous tomb of Emperor Shihuangdi. While much smaller in scale, both in regards to the number of figures and their size, this set still invokes the marvel and majesty of Ancient China. Each warrior is individually hand painted with a slightly different expression: some feature smooth faces, others have wispy mustaches. Each warrior wears a unique outfit. Some feature certain emblems that are thought to signify rank. Other warriors sport quivers on their back, suggesting that they were archers. Most of the figures have holes in their hands, implying that they once carried weapons, such as a spear or a bow, that have since disappeared. Most likely, these weapons were made out of wood and deteriorated over the centuries. Considering how damaging time and the natural elements can be to a work of art, the condition of this set is outstanding. Much of the original pigment remains intact. Beautiful red, blues, greens, and grays decorate their uniforms and provide insight into the fashions of Ancient China. This set was created specifically to be buried alongside the deceased to protect his soul throughout the afterlife. Today, this collection of painted warriors is a monument to the cultural glories of Han Dynasty, one of the most impressive ages of artistic creation in the history of human civilization. - (H.1073)

 

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