Thursday, September 13, 2007

China's Terracotta Warriors at the British Museum

In 1972, 1.7 million people queued for hours outside the British Museum to see the BIG exhibition that everyone wanted to see - Tutankhamun. I very much suspect the new exhibition of China's Terracotta Army also at the British Museum will become the same sort of momentous event which has a major impact on a generation of children and their families - not to mention all of us who go to see the exhibition with them!

Image: Terracotta Army. Exhibition in Gdynia, Poland, August 2006).
(Source: Wikimedia/photo © 2006 by Tomasz Sienicki )


Over 135,000 tickets have already been sold before it even opens today at the British Museum which apparently nets the Museum some £2m as well as setting a new record in box office sales for an exhibition in London.
The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army explores one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century, giving an insight into China’s First Emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, and his legacy.

The exhibition includes a number of the world-famous terracotta warriors from Xi'an, China, which were buried alongside the First Emperor in readiness for the afterlife, as well as some of the most striking recent discoveries made on the site.
British Museum website
Image: Mausolum of the First Qin Emperoror, UNESCO World Heritage Site (Source: Wikimedia)

Of course in 1972, the Terracotta Army hadn't even been discovered. They were found in March 1974 were they were buried with the Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huangdi) in 210-209 BC. Each is individually sculpted. Excavations have continued following the initial discovery and excavation and yet more discoveries have been made
Hiromi Kinoshita, the curator of the exhibition, said visitors were likely to be surprised by the exhibition, which will include a dozen statues and other artefacts
"What many people may not realise is that excavations have continued, and there are new, recent discoveries of fabulous life-size terracotta acrobats, civil officials, bronze birds, and of stone arms. It's these new discoveries that we would like to concentrate on," she said.
BBC China's Terracotta Army on the Move
The image shows the warriors at the original site of the mausoleum and excavation.

The famous Reading Room has been adapted to take the exhibition and I understand that 20 of life sized statues will on view. The Museum estimates it can take up to 500,000 with late night openings - so I wouldn't delay making a booking if you want to see it.

I've included links to some of the media coverage for the exhibition below - the consensus seems to be this is going to be a blockbuster.

However, it's likely that the exhibition will have some competition as Tutankhamun And The Golden Age of the Pharaohs opens at the former Millennium Dome in November. But the Dome is less accessible from central London and the exhibition is apparently going to have the highest entrance charge ever for such an event and won't actually include the very famous golden mask of the boy king as it's too fragile to travel!

I'm afraid I'm not in the least bit impressed with the current website for this particular event. It makes it look like a major new event straight from Las Vegas will be arriving across the river from my home in 63 days time! (It's also very weird seeing the buildings I can see from my home superimposed with a glitzy Tutankhamum frontage!)

Call me a cultural snob if you like but I like efforts to part me from my money to be rather less OTT and a bit more refined! Which means I'll be making my trek up to Bloomsbury rather than across the river. I'd love to go and draw the terracotta warriors and the other artifacts - all I need to do now is try and work out when it's going to be quiet!

Exhibition details
Media coverage
Other sources

7 comments:

Pica said...

Quiet? Not sure that's likely, but I'd avoid the first-of-the morning rush and just before lunchtime. I'd get there early, though, just to be in position; maybe after 1/2 hour it will get more quiet?

I can't wait to see your drawings...

Casey Klahn said...

I had the privilege of seeing both the Tut and the Terracotta Army exhibitions is Seattle in the eighties. Very memorable stuff. The artistic and craft aspects of the Egyptian relics were amazing.

Alison said...

We were living in oxford in '72 and had special bus tour tickets to the tut exhibition. The old man in the bus seat behind my sister and i stood up and vomitted his celebration dinner all over us. We arrived at the exhibition so stinky and disgusting that we had a free space around us as we toured the exhibits; everyone else had to keep moving and jammed together like sardines. If you want to sketch, I suggest you wear some really yucky perfume :) I saw the warriors in their burial ground in Xian - very memorable.

Katherine said...

Casey - I never really appreciated until I started to do my little bit of research for this post just how well travelled some ancients artifacts are. It strikes me they're a bit like ageing rock stars - still going out on the road, still drawing the crowds, still got their fans from 30 years ago etc!

Katherine said...

Alison - that is a 'killer' piece of advice - thanks!

"JeanneG" said...

It must take a huge amount of time to move something as big as that Army. How do you look at it? Walk among them? that would take a day or more. I can't imagine seeing something that extensive.

Casey Klahn said...

In asmuch as I am almost 50 now, I had to double check my memory to make sure that I saw the actual Terra Army, or just a repro. I looked a bit online to see which show had been in Seattle, but couldn't find a thing!

Anyway, stories work best in the veil of old memories, don't you think?

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