Art History: The Terracotta


Tomb Art has been around for centuries. In the ancient times, the dead were never just buried underground for them to biodegrade and power the next power plant. The dead were well respected. From the catacombs in Rome filled to the brim with early christian paintings to the monuments built for the dead in Greece. It is very clear that the dead were much more then that due to the beliefs and religion of the people during the times. For the Chinese it was also no different. They believed that the dead also needed to be decorated before they moved onto the underworld. This lead to one of the greatest archaeological finds in history, the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, a deep underground tomb where the emperor was buried with hundreds of terracotta figures to escort and keep him company in the underworld. With hundreds of figures, each uniquely crafted, I will be studying two figures specifically. The famous kneeling archer terracotta and the standing general Terracotta.


Fig A                                             Fig B

The terracotta statues are amazing works of art. The poses they are not done in any random position that would be to the liking of the artist, but these poses are reflective of the status of the respective terracotta warriors. Figure A on the left shows an archer, while Figure B is a general. For the archer, he is seen to be in a high kneel position, his face is looking forward and his left elbow is resting on his left knee. The most interesting part about this statue is the position of his hands, they look like they are supposed to be holding something. That missing item would be his crossbow, a very deadly weapon invented during the Han Dynasty. If the weapon was still there, the trigger of the bow would rest on the right hand, while the left hand supports the barrel and the arrow head would be side ways towards his shoulder. This position is a replica of how an archer during the Han Dynasty would act, while he is awaiting orders or preparing to fire his weapon. The archers usually stood rather closely in rows, holding the weapon a such would prevent the arrow from poking his allies in front of him, or accidentally killing one in the case of a misfire due to faulty mechanisms in the crossbows. On the other hand, we have the General of the army. His position of his body is much more relaxed then that of the archer, just standing upright, however his face is much more fierce then that of the archer. Being a general of over a few hundred or thousand people, the general has to be an unyielding and fearless to command the respects his soldiers, because he knows that if he falters even for a moment, it could greatly affect the morale of the army. During the Han Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang managed to unify china, having capable generals like Lu Buwei and Wang Jian at his side were no doubt compulsory.