Chinese Terracotta Army
History, Description, Photos of Qin Dynasty Clay Statues.

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Photograph of Some of the Excavated
Remains of the Chinese Terracotta
Army Warriors, Shaanxi province.

Some of the 8,000 Terracotta Warriors.
See also: Chinese Painters.

For an earlier masterpiece of
unglazed clay sculpture, see:
Thinker of Cernavoda (5,000 BCE)

Chinese Buddhist sculpture.

For a guide to celadon and other
ceramics, see: Chinese Pottery.
For fine "China", see:
Chinese Porcelain.

Chinese Terracotta Army (c.246-208 BCE)

The major cultural achievement of Qin Dynasty Art (221-206 BCE) and one of the greatest archeological finds in the history of Chinese art, The Terracotta Army (also known as the "Terracotta Warriors") is a massive collection of terracotta sculpture consisting of 8,000 clay warriors and horses which were discovered in 1974 next to the mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, who died in 210 BCE, in Shaanxi province, China. Each statue is unique and, according to curators of the tomb, there are tens of thousands more figures still to be uncovered. The Terracotta Army represents the largest hoard of ceramic art found anywhere in the world, and remains the greatest sculptural masterpiece of Asian art.

The height of the warriors varies between 184-197cm (6ft-6ft 5in) according to rank, with Generals being the tallest. At this height, these model soldiers are a full foot taller than the average Chinese person of the period.

The Terracotta Army was specially commissioned by the Emperor shortly after he took over in 247 BCE. Work started on the mausoleum in about 246 BCE and is reckoned to have taken 38 years to complete, using 700,000 workers. The function of the interred army was to help the Emperor rule in the afterlife.

For earlier works, see: Neolithic Art in China (7500-2000 BCE) and the bronzes associated with Shang Dynasty Art (c.1600-1000 BCE) and Zhou Dynasty Art (1050-221 BCE).

Each of the 8,000 terracotta warriors is unique, with a different face and facial expression, and they vary in uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank. Archeologists believe that they were manufactured in workshops by government labourers and local craftsmen. After completion, the figures were positioned in the tomb along with real weapons and body armour (subsequently stolen) in precise military formation.

For the characteristics, types and
aesthetics of painting in China,
see Chinese Painting.
For the most famous type
of sculpture in China,
see: jade carving.
For the principles behind
Oriental arts and crafts,
see: Traditional Chinese Art.
For more about crafts in China,
see: Chinese Lacquerware.

For a guide to the chronology
and evolution of 3-D art,
see: Sculpture History.

Evidence suggests that a large fire broke out in the tomb area housing the army. This was allegedly started by General Xiang Yu, whose soldiers raided the tomb five years after the death of the Emperor. In addition, despite strenuous efforts by Chinese archeologists, the Terracotta Army is deteriorating due to mould caused by heat and humidity and exposure to oxygen. The impact of tourist visitors on the condition of the site is also a problem.

Much excavation work remains to be done on the remainder of the site. The Imperial mausoleum has yet to be unearthed, along with the contents of many subterranean rooms and passageways.

Ceramic sculpture techniques used in the creation of the Terracotta Army Warriors were used more widely during the era of Han Dynasty Art (206 BCE - 220 CE), especially for funerary clay figurines, known as ming-chi or yong.

For important dates in the evolution of sculpture in China, see: Chinese Art Timeline (18,000 BCE - present). For the chronology of terracotta clay-fired art, see: Pottery Timeline (26,000 BCE-1900).

Although by far the largest ever find of sculpture, the Chinese Terracotta Warriors are not the only Iron Age clay figures which archeologists have discovered. Individuals and groups of terracotta figures have been excavated in Greece, Etruria in Italy, Crete and Cyprus. For earlier clay reliefs, statues and figurines, see also: Prehistoric sculpture (230,000 - 2500 BCE).

Note: The term terra-cotta derives from the Italian for "baked earth". It applies to any kind of fired clay, although usually it refers to any object made from low-grade clay that when baked assumes a sort of dull ochre colour. Terra-cotta objects are usually left unglazed.

Expertise in Ceramics

Ceramicists were able to create the Terracotta Army Warriors largely because of China's tradition of ancient pottery, which had existed ever since the first primitive pots were produced in 18,000 BCE. For more on this subject, see: Xianrendong Cave Pottery (Jiangxi Province), the world's oldest ceramic ware, and Yuchanyan Cave Pottery (Hunan Province). For a comparison with other forms of plastic art in Asia, see: Indian Sculpture (3300 BCE - 1850).

See also: Prehistoric Art Timeline.


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