The Warrior Emperor and China's Terracotta Army

The Warrior Emperor and China's Terracotta Army, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Canada
The Warrior Emperor and China's Terracotta Army, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Canada

From February 11 to June 26, 2011, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts will present The Warrior Emperor and China’s Terracotta Army, a major exhibition of archaeological works that will take visitors on a faraway journey covering 1,000 years of Chinese history.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) is now the FINAL stop of an exclusive Canadian tour as exhibition tour dates that followed (at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary and the Royal BC Museum in Victoria BC) were cancelled in late September due to Chinese officials' enforcement of government policy limiting the time theterracotta warriors can travel out of the country to one year.   

The Warrior Emperor and China’s Terracotta Army exceeds the size and scope of previous terracotta warrior exhibitions in the USA and the UK. Nearly 1/3 of the 240 remarkable objects including funerary figurines; paintings and sculptures; architectural elements; arms and armor; ornaments in jade and gold, and earthenware objects excavated from the largest burial complex in China (the greatest archeological site in the 20th century since King Tut’s tomb) have never been before on public display internationally.

Highlights on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts include the following national treasures and newly discovered artifacts dating as far back as 2,200 years:

  • Ten of the earliest known, unique, intact, full-sized terracotta sculptures belonging to the First Emperor united for the first time as part of this Canadian tour and among them;
  •  a kneeling archer still bearing traces of pigment never before shown in North America (for image, see attached press release);
  • A spectacular early wall painting from the Emperor’s tomb complex, one of the jewels of the exhibition, on display for the first time outside of China as part of this Canadian tour;
  • A life-sized bronze goose, unearthed in 2000 from what is considered the site of the Emperor’s water garden, on display for the first time outside of China as part of this Canadian tour.

The fortuitous discovery, in 1974, of artifacts from the Emperor Ying Zheng’s tomb complex, the most important in China and one of the largest in the world, revealed priceless treasures. It was the last great archaeological discovery of the twentieth century after King Tut’s tomb. The site was placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1987.

Thanks to the exceptional co-operation of the province of Shaanxi and loans from sixteen of that region’s most important archaeological research institutes and museums, 240 remarkable works, including many that have only recently been excavated, will be presented. A number of these works are being shown in North America for the first time on this Canadian tour or have never previously travelled outside China. In addition to outlining the life of Emperor Ying Zheng (259-210 BC), both on earth and in the afterlife, the exhibition will shed light on the creation of a new cultural and geopolitical cohesion that would have a profound effect on China for centuries to come.

This exhibition represents a rare opportunity to admire a group of archaeological objects of a stunning diversity that will not leave China again for a very long time.“The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is delighted to be associated with this major archaeological exhibition, which will enable people across Canada to see the outstanding artifacts lent by China.

Reflecting our overall vision for the Museum, the presentation of this exhibition, along with the appointment of our first Curator of Asian Art, Laura Vigo, and the coming reinstallation of our collections, confirms our intention to give greater visibility to ancient cultures,” said Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Dating from 2,200 years ago, ten larger-than-life terracotta sculptures will be the star attraction of this exhibition. Two high-ranking officers, four soldiers, a civic official, an acrobat and even two horses are among the works found in various pits excavated since then containing 2,000 statues, every one of themunique, of warriors and horses.

Rare bronze sculptures, including a goose, unearthed in 2005 from what is considered the site of the sovereign’s water garden, other never-before-exhibited relics, and many funerary figurines, ornaments in jade and gold, swords, coins and adornments, architectural elements and military accoutrements from the imperial tombs of the Emperors Gaozu and Jing of the Han Dynasty will trace thehistory of close to ten centuries of funeral rites.

Investigation of the site, situated in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi, near the colossal mausoleum – the largest in the world – of Qin Shihuangdi (Emperor Ying Zheng), will continue for many years, as it makes up only a tiny part of that country’s biggest burial complex. The first archaeological-site museum in China, as well as the biggest to date, has been built over theEmperor Qin’s mausoleum.

Excavations continue, with archaeologists now using new conservation techniques to preserve the fragile colours on the painted warriors. It is estimated that nearly 8,000 of these terracotta statues exist, and many remain to be dug up. Arranged in astounding military formation, they are often called the “eighth wonder of the world,” and many remain to be unearthed.

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Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
1380 Sherbrooke St West


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