Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China
First discovered in 1974 by farmers in China, an underground army of nearly 8,000 life-size terracotta figures is known as one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century. Discovered one mile east of the known burial site of the First Emperor of China (r. 221–210 BC), or Qin Shihuang, the terracotta army was created to accompany the emperor to the afterlife. This exhibition features ten majestic terracotta figures, including a cavalry horse, among 130 works that tell the story of China’s birth and one man’s lasting imprint on a nation.
The exhibition also features arms and armor, horse and chariot fittings, ritual bronze vessels, works in gold and silver, jade ornaments, precious jewelry, and ceramics. Excavated from the First Emperor’s mausoleum complex, as well as aristocratic and nomadic tombs, the objects date from the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770–256 BC) through the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC) and represent the complex history, myths, and burial customs of ancient China. They also explore the First Emperor’s profound influence on Chinese history.
Gathered from fourteen museums and archaeological institutes across Shaanxi Province, China, the works provide insights into Qin history, the creation of a unified China, the First Emperor’s rise to power, and his quest for immortality. More than 40 objects in the exhibition have never before been on view in the United States. Terracotta Army is the first exhibition the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has presented in its 80-year history that is devoted to the art and archaeology of ancient China.
Organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts 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 E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of East Asian Art, and Hou-mei Sung, Cincinnati Art Museum Curator of Asian Art.