Terracotta Warriors

My friend rachsticle just got back from a trip to China. I am really, REALLY jealous that she got to see the terracotta warriors at Xi’an. These warriors are placed to protect the tomb of the emperor Qin Shi Hugandi, who proclaimed to be the first emperor of China in 221 BC.

So, what’s the big deal about these warriors? Well, first off, it’s estimated that there are about TEN THOUSAND of them. These warriors were discovered in 1974, and over the past thirty-five years only about an eighth of the warriors have been excavated. Some of these underground vaults and pits are very hard to access (there are around 600 pits that cover a 22 square-mile area), but excavations are still in progress.

Huangdi arranged a mass-production project to create all of these warriors. Almost in assembly line fashion, artisans cranked out bodies and then customized them with ears, mustaches, hats, shoes, etc. Many of the figures appear strikingly individualized, but it’s not likely that they were modeled after real people. Instead, it’s more probable that the workers were instructed to represent different regional types of Chinese people.

If you don’t have plans to go to China soon, you could still see some of these statues in Washington DC. Next month, terracotta warriors will be on display in the National Geographic Society Museum, as part of an exhibition series which features the largest collection of these statues to ever leave China. You can read more about these statues and the upcoming exhibition in this Smithsonian article.

Sadly, I don’t have plans to go to China or DC in the near future. If you’re like me, then feel free to content yourself with some of rachsticle’s pictures (thanks, friend!):

It appears that the artisans had different molds for body types.
Look at how some of the bodies are skinnier than others.

  • Ashley says:

    I'm jealous too. I REALLY want to go to China to see those and the Wall and countless other things! Amazing!

  • e says:

    Are these not the ones that were on special exhibit at BYU's museum about 14 or 15 years ago?

    I went to a special exhibit at BYU for some ancient, Asian art that was on traveling exhibit 14 or 15 years ago and they had something VERY similar to these.

    If not, I wonder if I can go see them while they are in DC. I don't know if the National Geographic is a free museum or not. I'll have to check into that.

  • heidenkind says:

    How cool! I'm totally jealous, too. They say Emperor Qing's pyramid is so large, you don't even realize it's a pyramid–it just looks like part of the landscape. and that there's a river of mercury running through it and stars and whatnot as part of a model of the real world.

  • M says:

    e, I don't know if these statues were ever exhibited at BYU, but it's likely. Let me know if you have a chance to see the warriors at the National Geographic Museum. I know that admission is free to most exhibitions there, but I'm not sure if they will charge for this special exhibition.

    I didn't know that stuff about the pyramid, heidenkind. How cool! I don't know too much stuff about non-Western art, so it's fun to hear tidbits of information. Man, it's mind boggling to try and visualize a pyramid that large.

  • joolee says:

    those would truly be amazing to see!!

  • Rachsticle says:

    You can steal my photos any time. This was amazing to see.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.