The Terracotta Army has been described as one of the only historic artefacts that can draw a crowd based on its name alone. And after going to the Art Gallery of NSW's most recent 'First Emperor – China's Entombed Warriors' exhibition , this claim is well justified.
Featuring the famous Terracotta Army figures themselves, the exhibition hosts over 120 rare objects that trace the story of Qin Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor of China – from the beginnings and rise of the Qin empire, to his life and achievements, to his death and legacy - the exhibition is a comprehensive look into the man who united Ancient China.
For those unfamiliar to the context and historical backdrop of the artefacts, the gallery has a 15 minute introductory video that gives a succinct insight so you can truly appreciate not only the terracotta army, but the importance and controversy surrounding the first Emperor.
The exhibition itself spans five different rooms, all with low lighting and dark backdrop that focuses solely on the artefacts, making them speak for themselves.
The first thing you'll notice upon entering the exhibition is the sheer volume of people. The rooms are divided chronologically, and you should expect to follow the crowd as each and every person takes turn remarking the fine details of all the artefacts. After a certain point, you may be impatient and want to skip to the room that holds the terracotta warriors, but its worth examining every object along the way.
In the fourth room, the main attraction is shown, with the warriors standing in formation facing forward. The fact that they aren't hidden behind any glass gives you the opportunity to examine their fine details and marvel at their life-size and likeness. You'll notice they have fingernails, their ears have creases, their pants fold and they even have shoe laces (with tassel ends too, mind you). All made from from clay and over 2,000 year olds.
At this point, it's important to note that those looking to experience the full scale of the Terracotta Army will be disappointed. In accordance to UNESCO World Heritage Site rules, only a certain number of figures are allowed to leave the original Terracotta Army site in Xi'an. Only there will you be able to see almost 8,000 warriors in the original burial tomb. In a museum context, the focus thus becomes to demonstrate the incredible skill, dedication and genius that went into creating the individual figures.
What some may not know is that the all the soldiers were actually individually painted, but that after 2,000 years, the pigments have naturally worn off. Whilst the exhibition does state this, I wished they had a warrior replica that had all original colours on (or as close to this as can be inferred) – just to illustrate how truly fine the details would have been back in the day.
Throughout the exhibition, there are quotes that provoke imagery of the actual resting place of the Emperor. However, this is remains underground as Chinese archaeologists have decided to not further excavate the site to preserve its contents. You therefore leave the exhibition with the sense that there are mysteries to be solved and that hopefully, one day new treasures will be found.
The First Emperor – China's Entombed Warriors exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW runs until the 13th March 2011.
$55.00 family (2 adults + up to 3 children)
$5.00 student in booked school group
$15.00 children 5-15 and full-time students. Under 5 free.
For more information, have a look at their official website.