At the Östasiatiska Museet, Stockholm.
Photo © JE Nilsson and C M Cordeiro-Nilsson for CMC 2011
The Terracotta Army Exhibition currently ongoing at the Östasiatiska Museet in Stockholm plus girlfriends in town and a love for long drives all provided excellent reasons for a cross country weekend getaway from Gothenburg to Stockholm. Whichever way you choose to travel between the two largest cities of Sweden, the time needed is about half a day. If you can flash the corporate plastic and use a cab for the transfers, travelling by air is of course the best.
If you have plans to visit a number of places as we did, and like the freedom, a car ride is worth considering.
There is surprisingly enough, no expressways between Gothenburg and Stockholm but rather three choices of roads. One pretty much okay in terms of speed (E4), one decent (E20) and one, lets be polite and say – scenic – road (E45/E18). Being in no particular hurry we of course chose the last one for the leg up, while the return trip home was made on the E4. The former being an interesting route through a snow blanketed provincial Swedish landscape and the E4 with a few exceptions around the Lake Vättern, pretty much one long stretch of asphalt.
We made it to the Östasiatiska Museet early on Sunday to avoid the mid-day crowds. This exhibition which shows a number of pieces never before exhibited outside of China has so far turned out to be a great success, not in the least because of the fact that the museum managed to make accessible and use some formerly secret military caverns just under it for this exhibition, but the sensation of actually meeting with these lifesized figures – underground – where they were actually meant to be, gives an eerie aspect to the entire experience of it all, where you now and again catch yourself making sure that the figures are actually standing still.
This horse carriage in bronze was actually a replica (apologetically explained on the sign board as the only replica in the exhibition) since the original would be impossible to transport. It is an important item though, since it is pulled by four horses, which is extremely difficult to steer, but also gives extreme speed to the military dispatches that most probably were transported in these carts as part of the army’s command chain.
This is what the Asian Art web site Gotheborg.com tells about the Terracotta Army:
An army of life-sized warrior and horse pottery figures made to guard the burial site of Qin Shi Huangdi, the “First Emperor of China” in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). The so far found warrior figures all stand in battle formation, facing East, with their backs to the tombs of the Emperor and his retinue.
They were discovered in 1974 when farmers drilling for water near the ancient city of Xi’an found the first shards of pottery that indicated their presence. Current estimates point towards that there all in all might be over 8,000 life-sized pottery warrior figures, each including infantry and cavalry with spears, bows, 130 chariots and more than 600 horses, of which the majority are still buried and yet to be discovered and restored.
The three so far excavated pits are listed as a Unesco World Heritage site and are regarded as one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century. More than 40 million visitors have been shepherded around the pits as more and more figures have been unearthed.
The figures exemplify from a technical point of view the high degree of specialization and organization of the Chinese pottery industry at this date.
It has been speculated that there might be three more armies not yet found, thus one each facing all four directions of the compass.
Individual features, perfectly sculpted.
What struck me most about the clay figures were not just the intricate details of armour or stance that each of them had, but rather their specific facial features that spoke volumes of each person as an individual. Perfectly sculpted brows, eyes, noses and outline of lips that, when staring at the figurines, seem to pull the viewer as a vortex towards its person and history. You are immediately absorbed by the aura of these people who once made up China’s most powerful army!
Standing driver, today with empty outstretched hands but originally holding the reins of a battle cart.
One very little recognized aspect of this terracotta army is that the actual families that created it, might very well be alive and still active in the pottery sculpting industry of today. Quite possibly it is as the the book The Wonderful Mystical Ancient Nanfeng Kiln (2001) have it, that it was the families now active in the Shiwan potteries in Guangzhou ancestors that created these figures.
Uniting China, Qinchihuang, the first emperor of Qin Dynasty, built a huge matchless tomb for himself and enlisted a large number of potters near Lingtong (the Capital of Qin) to mold a[n] army of clay figures of a giant powerful army. This is world famous Clay Figures of Warriors And Horses of Emperor Of Qin, the eighth wonders in the world. Potters of the Huozhou Kiln took part in the great project! ~ p13
The family history of the Shiwan potters in Guangzhou seem to indicate that when the Song dynasty Imperial family was forced to move to the south about one thousand years ago, a lot of artisans and scholars from the Central Plains of China chose to follow them to the South of China. Ancestors of Shiwan thus settled from the north, producing objects for handicraft, industry, agriculture and everyday living, where the Guangzhou area provided good clay and a ready market for ceramic products.
A restored tile armour, copied in stone after an original in leather.
This is the neck side of a restored helmet, an almost super human feat, since the remnants of about 80 body armours and 40 helmets were found, the stone pieces all completely jumbled since the wooden structures they might once have been suspended on were now long gone.
Through the window of the Östasiatiska Museet.
Catching up in Stockholm.
Apart from meeting sculpted individuals from the Terracotta Army, the visit to Stockholm proved warm and friendly in this wintry landscape, lending the opportunity to catch up with ex-classmates from Singapore who’ve now experienced first-hand, the concept of ‘natural air-conditioning’. And we couldn’t well decide which was the more terrifying reality, the natural cold in Scandinavia during the winter, or the unnatural cold in the Singapore movie theatres, both of which isn’t up to you to regulate at will.
Thank you Ladies, for a wonderful weekend in Stockholm!