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Age of Empires
Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
April 3 through July 16, 2017

Cover of Exhibition catalogue

Cover of exhibition catalogue

By Carter B. Horsley

Met Han 1

Catalogue entry 2, "Standing Archer," earthenware, Qin Dynasty, 74 3/4 inches high

The Qin "Standing Archer" (catalogue entry 2) is 74 3/4 inches high and was excavated in 1974 from the mausoleum complex of Qin Shihuangdi in Lintong in Shaangxi Province.


Catalogue 60, Female dancer, earthenware with pigment, 17 5/8 inches high, Western Han

Catalogue 60 is a spectacular Western Han earthernware female dancer that is 17 5/8 inches high in an extremely graceful and very impressive titled pose that almost defies gravity with her two arms bent in very long dangling sleeves.  The head, body and arms were made separately and joined together.  The dancers were meant to entertain the tomb occupants "into eternity," according to the catalogue.

Han elepant

Catalogue entry 91, Elephant and groom, gilt and silvered bronze. Western Han, elephant 12 inches high, groom 2 7/8 inches high

The gilt and silvered Western Han elephant and groom (Catalogue entry 91) were excavated 2010 from the tomb of Liu Fei, prince of Jiangdu.  The elephant is 12 inches high and the groom is 2 7/8 inches high.  They were discovered along with a rhinocerus and groom in the same tomb. The catalogue entry notess that "elephants lived in central China for thousands of years but retreated to the very south and southwest borders of the Han Empire because of climate change and excessive hunding for their ivory tusks."  "Vessels in the form of elephants or decorated with elephant motifs have been found amoung ancient Chinese bronzes....Catalgoue 91 presents a unique example of a realistically depicted elephant.  Its features include accurate proportions, a humped back, and an havily folded hide, with five-toed front feet and four-toed back ones, and even sex organs."

Han dog

Catalogue entry 96, Dog, Eastern Han dynasty, earthenware, 16 4/5 inches high

The Eastern Han earthenware dog (Catalogue entry 96) is 16 4/5 inches high.  "Its compact hollow body was molded, while its other parts, such as the ears, teeth, and eyes, were sculpted separately...New levels of artistic and technical sophistication embued these watchdogs with unprecedented levels of realism, reflecting an increasingly humanistic view of the afterlife during the Eastern Han."

Han group

Catalogue entry 37a-c, groups of Chariot drivers, riders and infantrymen, Western Han, earthenware with pigments

A group of a dozen Western Han earthenware figures including Chariot drivers and riders and infantrymen is Catalogue 37a-c.  They were excavated in 1984 at Shizishan, Xuzchou in Jiangsu Province.  They were among the 2,400 figures terracotta warriors excavated from four large burial pits that accompanied the tomb of Liu Yue, a Chu prince.  They were originally painted in bright colors.

Han Horse

Catalogue 40A and 40B, Horse and Groom, bronze, Eastern Han, horse 53 1/8 inches high, groom, 26 7/8 inches high

Catalogue 40A and 40B are an Eastern Han bronze horse and a groom.  The horse is 53 1/8 inches high and the groom is 26 7/8 inches high.  They were excavated in 1990 at Hejiashan, Mianyang in Sichuan Province and are from the Mianyang City Museum.  The catalogue entry notes that "when the Han diplomat Zhang Qian 9d/ 113 B.) brought 'heavenly horses' back with hin fronm Dawan, an ancient Chinese kingdom in modern Ferghana Valley, Uzebekistan, the Chinese were fascinated with these grand beasts."  "To equip his cavalry, Emperor Wu (r. 141-87 B.C.) sent first his diplomats and later his troops to march thousands of miles to obtain these horses.  Only after two major military campaigns and heavy losses did the Han Army eventually acquire them."  The horse is composed of 9 parts.


Catalogue 126, "Ormament with Two Dancers," gilt bronze, Western Han Dynasty, 7 1/4 inches long, left; Catalogue entry 125, "Ornamental plaque with Bullfight," bronze, 5 1/4 inches long, Western Han Dynasty

Catalogue 126 is a joyous, gilt bronze, Western Han "ornament" of two dancers that is 7 1/4 quarter inches long.  It was excavated in 1956 at Tomb 13 at Shinaishan, Jinning in Yunnan Province.  The dancers are prancing on a snake.  "Biting the ankle of one dancer and wrapping around that of the other, the snake functions as a support.  Often interpreted as a sacred animal in Dian culture, the snake is a common motif in the coeval arts of the Yunnan region," the catalogue entry noted.

Catalogue 125 is a Western Han bronze ornamental plaque with bullfight.  It is 5 1/4 inches long and was excavated in 1992 from Tomb 68 at Lijiashan, Jiangchuan in Yunnan Province. 

Han circus

Catalogue entry 124, Cowry container with scene of sacrifice," bronze, Western Han, 15 3/4 inches high

Catalogue entry 124 ia an impressive cowry container with a scene of sacrifice.  The Western Han bronze is 15 3/4 inches high and was excavated in 1992 from Tomb 69 at Lijiashan, Jiangchuan in Yunnan Province.  The container's cover has 35 figures surrounded a central column and they are escorted by two mounted horsemen and flanked by servants and a gilded female sits on a palanquin carried by four people. 

Han stand

Catalogue 135, "Money Tree," bronze, Eastern Han, 41 3/8 inches high

One of the show's most impressive works is Catalogue 135, a bronze Eastern Han "money tree" that is 41 3/8 inches high.  It was excavated in 1972 at Pengshan in Sichuan Province.  It is from the
Guanghan Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics at Chengu. 

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"The mother Queen of the West appears at the center of every branch, seated beneath a canopy on a throne flanked by a dragon and a tiger.  On the upper branches she is attended by two kneeling, winged immortals - one presenting the magic fungus and the other pounding the elisir of immortality - and entertained by a group of dancers and musicians."


Catalogue entry 34 A and B, two armored warrios, earthenware with pigment, Western Han, 22 1/4 inches high the tallest

The catalogue entry 34A&B notes its two armored warriors are among the 383 terracotta warriors excavated oin 1992 at the mausoleum of Emperor Jing and that they had movable arms, cloth robes and shin guards. They come from the Yangling Mausoleum in Xianyang in Shaanxi Province.The encrustrations around their torsos indicate the forms of their armor.

Han gold

Catalogue entry 106, belt tuckle, gold inlaid with semi-precious stones, 2 3/8 by 3 7/8 inches, Han, left; Catalogue entry 107, ornamental belt buckle, gold inlaid with agate, hematite, turquoise and shell, 7 7/8 inches long, Han

The Han gold belt buckle inlaid with semi-previous stones (Catalogue entry 106) was unearthed in 1976 at the site of the Bogedaqin city Yanqi.  It comes from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museunm in Urumqi.  It is decorated with a horned dragon surrounded by six cubs.  "A salient feature of this buckle," the catalogue entry noted, :is the granulation - that is, the minute gold granules fused to the surface to highlight the design and create texture.  The technique was introduced to China in the second half of the first millennium B.C., probably via maritime trade with countries in South and West Asia, where the use of granulation dates to the third millennium B.C."

The Han ornamental gold belt buckle (Catalogue entry 107) was excavated in 2001 at Matenkong, Xi'an, in Shaanxi Province.  It is 7 7/8 inches long and inlaid with agate, hematite, turquoise and shell.  It comes from the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology.

Click here to order a copy of the hard-bound, 263-page $65 catalogue from Amazon for $43.63


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