From February 12 to June 26, 2011, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
presents The Warrior Emperor and Chinas Terracotta Army, a major exhibition of archaeological works that will take visitors on a faraway journey covering 1,000 years of Chinese history. In 1974, the fortuitous discovery of artifacts from the Emperor Ying Zhengs tomb complex, the most important in China and one of the largest in the world, revealed priceless treasures. It was the last great archaeological discovery of the 20th century after King Tuts tomb. The site was placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1987. Thanks to the exceptional co-operation of the province of Shaanxi and loans from 16 of that regions most important archaeological research institutes and museums, 240 remarkable works, including many that have only recently been excavated, are presented. A number of these works are being shown on this Canadian tour in North America for the first time or have never previously travelled outside China. In addition to outlining the life of Emperor Ying Zheng (259 210 BC), both on earth and in the afterlife, the exhibition sheds light on the creation of a new cultural and geopolitical cohesion that would have a profound effect on China for centuries to come. This exhibition represents a rare opportunity to view a group of stunning, diverse archaeological objects that won't leave China again for a very long time.
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is delighted to be associated with this major archaeological exhibition, which will enable national and international visitors to see the outstanding artifacts lent by China. Reflecting our overall vision for the Museum, the presentation of this exhibition, along with the appointment of our first Curator of Asian Art, Laura Vigo, and the coming reinstallation of our collections, confirms our intention to give greater visibility to ancient cultures, said Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
The Warrior Emperor And China's Terracotta Army: Priceless Objects
Dating from 2,200 years ago, ten larger-than-life terracotta sculptures are the star attraction of this exhibition. Two high-ranking officers, four soldiers, a civic official, an acrobat and even two horses are among the works found in various pits excavated since then containing 2,000 statues, every one of them unique.
Rare bronze sculptures, including a goose unearthed in 2000 from what is considered the site of the sovereigns water garden, other never-before-exhibited relics and many funerary figurines, ornaments in jade and gold, swords, coins and adornments, architectural elements and military accoutrements from the imperial tombs of the Emperors Gaozu and Jing of the Han Dynasty will trace the history of close to ten centuries of funeral rites.
Investigation of the site, situated in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi, near the colossal mausoleum the largest in the world of Qin Sihuangdi (Emperor Ying Zheng), will continue for many years, as it makes up only a tiny part of that countrys biggest burial complex.
The first archaeological-site museum in China, as well as the biggest to date, has been built over the Emperor Qins mausoleum. Excavations continue, with archaeologists now using new conservation techniques to preserve the fragile colors on the painted warriors. It is estimated that nearly 8,000 of these terracotta statues exist, and many remain to be unearthed. Arranged in astounding military formation, they are often called the eighth wonder of the world, and many remain to be unearthed.
The succeeding dynasties, periods of political and social transition marked variably by war or peace and profound societal changes the magnificent history of ancient China will unfold before visitors through a chronological presentation divided into three sections.
The Rise of Qin (9th century 221 BC)
The first section of the exhibition begins in the 9th century BC, when the Ying family was part of a small noble clan that served the royal court of the Zhou. In reward for its military valor and defense of the family in power, the Ying family was given land and its head received the title of Duke of Qin. The exhibition includes a bronze bell that belonged to the Qin Duke Wu that attests to the gift of an estate to Duke Xiang, an ancestor of the First Emperor. Recently excavated figures, as well as the most ancient terracotta soldiers ever to have been discovered in the country, appear in this section. One of the jewels of the exhibition, which has never before been presented outside China, is a wall painting from the imperial burial site. Documented as being the First Emperors favorite color, black predominates in the multicolored paintings on clay.
The Terracotta Army of the First Emperor of China (221 206 BC)
The exhibitions second section deals with the life and legacy of the famous First Emperor and the inception of his terracotta army. In 246 BC, Ying Zheng, then only thirteen years old, acceded to the throne of the state of Qin. After having conquered the last independent state and put an end to 500 years of war and intergovernmental strife, Ying Zheng became king of the whole of China in 221 BC. On the strength of this unprecedented achievement, and in the desire to indicate his power and standing, he declared himself Qin Sihuangdi, First August Emperor of the Qin, in the hope that the Ying family would continue to reign for thousands of generations. Ranked among Chinas national treasures, the objects shown in this section are, for the most part, the product of the most recent archaeological discoveries made in the Emperors mausoleum. Of particular note are a set of armor and a helmet made of stone plates, as well as a life-sized bronze goose.
The Harmonious Era of the Han (206 BC 220 AD)
The third section examines the political and social changes that marked the rise of the Han dynasty (206 BC 220 AD) after the sudden death of Ying Zheng in 210 BC. The Han emperors maintained the First Emperors administrative policies, as well as the burial practices of his era. They also buried terracotta figures for the purpose of caring for their needs in the afterlife, but their size never equaled that of the sculptures created under the Qin. Smaller and arranged in groups, the statuettes created at the beginning of the Han dynasty were inspired by different themes more representative of everyday life. Presented in this part of the exhibition is a large selection of terracotta objects, unearthed from the tombs of the emperors Gaozu and Jing of the Han dynasty, including beautifully painted terracotta ladies and soldiers, as well as an assortment of farm animals pigs, dogs, sheep, goats and chickens that evoke the relatively peaceful life of this period, during which traditions that still live on in China today were established.
The "First Emperor of China": A Controversial Figure
Ying Zheng, who succeeded in uniting seven warring kingdoms into a single nation, of which he was the sole monarch for 37 years, remains a controversial figure in the history of China. If his autocratic rule was characterized by tyranny and slaughter, his achievements were many: the establishment of a strong central government; codification of laws; standardization of currency, weights and measures, establishing a national road and canal system, and the Great Wall of China, which was designed to thwart invaders from the north. Not only did he lend his name to this vast country, he created a bureaucratic system that endured to the dawn of the 20th century. However, the terracotta warriors are the most tangible proof of his legacy. During his reign, 700,000 workers spent close to 40 years erecting a gigantic mausoleum to hold 8,000 large terracotta warriors and other remarkable sculptures. It is supposed that building began as a result of a series of assassination attempts, as the complex and its guardsmen were meant to protect Ying Zheng in the afterlife. Recent archaeological studies have shown that this necropolis, at 56.25 km2, is much larger than originally thought, comprising a complete underground palace that even boasts imperial botanical gardens. After a few decades of excavations, it is now known that the terracotta warriors make up only a minuscule part of this huge site. Over 180 pits, including those containing the buried army, are arranged on both sides of the double-walled enclosure within which the burial mound is located. A total of more than 500 archaeological remains, such as graves, walls and gates, have been discovered since the 1970s.