The Qin and Han Dynasties are roughly equivalent in time period and cultural influence to the Roman Empire. They encompass the era when a coherent, unified Chinese identity was first formed. In addition to bringing the region centralised political power, a common economy, integrated road systems and a common written language, the Qin and Han Dynasties ushered in an extraordinary period of artistic cultivation, the remnants of which still help define Chinese cultural identity today.
Now until 16 July 2017, in one of the most extensive presentations of classical Chinese art ever exhibited outside of China, that legacy is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “Age of Empires” examines this extraordinary time in Chinese history by bringing together more than 300 antiquities gathered from 32 Chinese cultural and archaeological institutions.
The exhibition begins with a display of some of the 7,000 life-size terracotta warriors unearthed from the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first Qin emperor. Also on view are rare textiles, ritual objects, jewellery, painting, sculpture, and a range of statuary, including sculptures of native animals like horses and non-native animals like lions and rhinoceroses. Many artifacts on view were discovered in just the last 50 years, and most have never before been seen outside of China.
Image caption: Ornament with Two Dancers. Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 9). Gilt bronze, 4¾ x 7¼ in. (12 x 18.5 cm). Excavated in 1956, tomb no. 13, Shizhaishan, Jinning, Yunnan Province. Yunnan Provincial Museum, Kunming. Photo: Courtesy Yunnan Provincial Museum.