World History Episode 9 The Silk Road (Time Stamp 7:08)
Pagoda at Ichijō-ji, 1171
Context in CC: “Through contacts with other cultures and traditions, Buddhism grew and flourished and became one of the great religious traditions of the world.”
Greater Historical/Art Historical Relevance: The pagoda as a building emerged with the introduction of Buddhism from India into China. It evolved from two types of buildings: the first our old friend the stupa in India, the second from within China itself in the form of monumental towers called Que. The pagoda takes on the structural motifs of the Que and the functions of the Stupa. At least the way we are considering pagoda’s in the aforementioned episode, as a symbol of Buddhism and it’s influence in China via the Silk Road.
Pagoda’s exist in many different styles, the most recognizable of these styles being the storeyed pavilion style pictured above. The Chinees had four major styles ranging in shapes from square to 12-sided, some looking more dome-like, echoing the shape of the stupa but in an elongated form, others were simple one-story structures.While most Chinese pagodas were erected from wood, Korean pagodas show more of a range in materials, including brick, granite and other types of stone. Korean pagoda’s grew smaller and lower to the ground as atypical forms emerged and buddhism became less common. Japanese pagodas, like the one pictured above, were predominantly square and wooden, typically with three or five storeys
Scholars have also adopted the use of the term pagoda when referring to similar structures constructed in Europe in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries. The chinoiserie style in interior and exterior design was at its height, and people were using aesthetic motifs from China and other Asian countries to decorate their homes and gardens. Pagodas began popping up in the gardens of well-to-do Europeans as well as in public parks. The most famous of these is William Chambers’ in London’s Kew Gardens (1761-2).
"Pagoda." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press.
, et al.
"Chinoiserie." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press
"Que." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press.
World History Episode 9 The Silk Road (Time Stamp 4:39)
Ancient Avenue at Palmyra.
Context in CC: “[The cities] continued to grow, because most of the trade on the Silk Road was by caravan, and those caravans had to stop frequently, you know, for like food and water and prostitutes. These towns become fantastically wealthy: One, Palmyra was particularly important because all of the incense and silk that traveled to Rome had to go through Palmyra.”
Greater Historical/Art Historical Relevance: Never has a post been harder for this author to compose, though I am unsure as to the reason (it probably had something to do with writing a masters thesis) Sorry for the lateness. I’m super sorry, let’s move on to our regularly scheduled program. Palmyra, a city which gives it’s name to towns in Pennsylvania, Maine, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, and others, as well as title’s one of my favorite songs; it’s genesis is in the ancient middle eastern city of Tadmor, now in modern Syria.
Palmyra was located, as discussed in Crash Course, on the convergence of two trade routes. The first was the silk road, which stretched across the Eurasian continent to China, and the second from the Persian Gulf to India. Palmyra, today, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the archeological remains date back to the third century. It’s two most Art Historically significant structures are the Temple of Bel, and the Great Colonnade (pictured above).
The temple, like the town, displays the convergence of Greco-Roman and Near Eastern culture, the architectural plan is very Syrian, but elements of classical building are easily spotted: the Corinthian architectural order for example, remember that? Bel (or Bol or Baal) was the god of the sky whom exercised jurisdiction over the stars (For a much a more in depth analysis of the Temple of Bel, read this 2011 Wall Street Journal Article).
The temple would have been familiar to the infamous Queen Zenobia who, though she ruled for a mere seven years, established an empire that reached to Egypt an conquered a large portion of Anatolia, of which she established Palmyra as the Capital. Unfortunately for Zenobia, Emperor Aurelian of Rome reconquered Palmyra and had the queen transported back to it’s seven hills, where she died shortly after arrival either from self-inflicted hunger strike on the trip, or beheading…or possibly some combination thereof.
The Great Colonnade stretches from the Temple of Bel to the city’s main funerary temple. The colonnade lines what was the city’s central avenue, and stretches over a kilometer. Built in three different sections, the colonnade was built in the second and third centuries using several different techniques. Originally, the columns had been built in the classical style with six to eight short drums. This technique was replaced with columns that used only three larger, thinner drums, Making the colonnade, like the Temple of Bel, and the City itself a symbol of the crossroads between the west and the near east: a physical representation of the exchange of ideas occurring on the Silk Road.
Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Palmyra”, accessed February 04, 2014, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/440255/Palmyra.
Christian C. Sahner, “The Temple of the ‘Bride of the Desert’,” The Wall Street Journal. August 27th, 2011.
Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. “Palmyra”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000.
Barański, Marek (1995). “The Great Colonade of Palmyra Reconsidered”. ARAM Periodical (ARAM Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Studies) 7 (1): 37–46.
World History Episode 8 Alexander the Great (Time Stamp 3:39)
Napoleon in Coronation Costume, Francois Gerard, 1805
Context in CC: “Much of his [Alexander the Great] reputation as a general, and his reputation in general, anybody? Puns? I should stop? OK. Is because of Napoleon. Napoleon, like many other generals throughout history, was obsessed with Alexander the Great, but more on that in a moment.” Our first encounter with good ol’ Napoleon here at Crash Course Art, but I guarantee it will not be our last. It probably wont even be the last time we encounter imagery of his coronation.
Greater Historical/Art Historical Relevance: Napoleon, rather unsurprisingly, liked to commission his portrait, and no event in his life was more important than his Coronation at Emperor of the French. Nearly every French neoclassical painter was at some point charged with the capturing of his image, including the already discussed Jacques Louis David and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. The latter painted a coronation portrait very similar to the one used here, but perhaps more striking.
I thought this might be a good time to discuss some of the iconography used in royal portraiture. First, vocabulary: Iconography is generally understood as the interpretation of specific imagery and subject matter as it contributes to the content of a work. In Gerard’s work we will pay attention to Napoleon’s dress, his pose, the objects he surrounds himself with, but more important in iconography is what all those objects and their meanings say about the work and how Napoleon wanted people to view him. There is so much to talk about here, so we will limit this discussion to a few pieces of regalia, or the accoutrements of royal costume.
We will begin with The Holy Handgrenade of Antioch…I mean the globus cruciger. More often simply called “the orb.” Pictured here at Napoleon’s left, sitting on a plush blue pillow, the globus cruciger is a sphere-shaped ornament topped with a cross (the name literally means “cross-bearing orb” in Latin). The orb began a just a spherical ornament (without the cross). It was adopted by the Romans from the ancient Greek philosophers conception of the universe as a sphere, and symbolized the Roman Emperor’s universal rule. The cross was added when it was adopted by European kings as symbol of the Christian Sovereign. Napoleon’s use of the orb further ingrains the idea of his far reaching power to the viewer (you’ll see a theme beginning to develop).
The second bit of regalia commonly used in this kind of portraiture is the scepter (sceptre). Scepter’s are one of the oldest and most widely used symbols of governing power, and can be seen in art as early ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Originally, the scepter could just be a long staff or rod, during Roman rule they were often topped with an eagle or a hawk, but in the post-christian world a cross was much more common. So it is significant that Napoleon has chosen to return to the eagle of the Roman empire. He’s attempting to equate the perceived greatness of ancient Rome with the potential greatness of his French empire. Additionally his scepter was said to have belonged to the great French king Charles V, adding a whole other layer of meaning.
Napoleon’s lush robes draw from many different influences. Velvet and ermine were often used to denote both rank and riches. The velvet of the outer robe was decorated with golden bees, rather than the fleur-de-lis which had become traditional in the established portraiture etiquette of the Bourbon kings beginning with Louis XIV. The bees harken back to the ancient Merovingian dynasty, rather than the much out of favor Bourbons.
He used these sort of associations (the bees of the Merovingians, the sceptre of Charles V) to firmly establish his place in the history of French Monarchy, symbolically placing himself as the rightful ruler of France while at the same time equating his power to the Romans and the successful french kings before him. Everything in this portrait, his stance, his dress, his accoutrements, etc, effects the viewers perception of Napoleons power. Compare this portrait or the one linked above by Ingres to this Napoleonic portrait (clearly not commissioned by the emperor) by Paul Delaroche for a contrast. These three painting are all the same subject, a portrait of Napoleon, but they have vastly different content. Most of the portraits Napoleon commissioned use similar iconography of power, you’d think he was trying to compensate for something…
"Dress." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed August 26, 2013, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T023637pg6.
, et al.
(2) "Regalia." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed August 26, 2013, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T071111.
World History Episode 8 Alexander the Great (Time Stamp 2:10)
Alexander Taming Bucephalus, F. Schommer, Late 19th Century
Context in CC: “Alexander was the son of King Phillip the Second, and when just 13 years old her tamed a horse no one else could ride named Bucephalus, which impresses his father so much he said: ‘Oh thy son, look thee at a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee.” Talk about high expectations.
Greater Historical/Art Historical Relevance: Let’s take a second and talk about this horse, no scratch that, let’s talk about horses in general. Because it is probably possible to teach an entire survey of art history and use only pictures that include animals of the equine variety. For your author, being born and raised in the great state of Kentucky, horses are just commonplace, but I think it can be argued that horses are one of the most common motifs throughout art history.
Depictions of horses stretch all the way back to the prehistoric cave painting at Lascaux. Images of horses existed throughout the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations and became even more prominent during antiquity, where the Equestrian statue became a common way for rulers to depict themselves as powerful military leaders (but we will get to that later).
From cave painting to the striking horse in Picasso’s Guernica, horses have made appearances in art for thousands of years, and so because there is little art historical context of this specific depiction of Bucephalus, I give you some of my favorite Art Historical horses:
~ Generally any of German painter Franz Marc’s depictions. The German expressionist and member of Der Blaue Reiter. Most of his mature work depicts animals (the most famous of his works being Fighting Forms and The Fate of the Animals) and at many times horses. Large Blue Horses (1911) is my favorite. Marc painted animals because he believed they had a “purer, more sublime relationship with the world,” he communicated this relationship through abstraction of color and line (1).
~ Rosa Bonheur’s The Horse Fair (1852 - 55) - Rosa Bonheur began exhibiting at the Paris Salon at just 19. Considered a part of the Realist movement, she received notice for her many sympathetic portrayals of animals, but The Horse Fair is widely recognized as her most acclaimed work. Currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the 8 by 16 foot painting was created from over a year’s worth of sketching twice a week at the horse market in Paris, where Bonheur dressed as a man in order to attract less attention for the horse dealers and wranglers. This painting is a combination of realistic anatomical portrayal and romantic color and dynamism in composition (2, 3).
~ Eugene Delacroix’s Death of Sardanapalus (1827): Now this painting is not about horses, per se, but there is a horse in it. I’m a bit of a sucker for the drama (both joyous and devastating) of Romanticism. The Death of Sardanapalus is one of my favorites. Based on a play by Lord Byron, the protagonist (Sardanapalus) has been defeated in battle and decides that rather than surrender, he will not only kill himself, but destroy everything that gives him any amount of pleasure (including his horse). Here Delacroix depicts his funeral pyre, and the raw emotion in everyone and everything Sardanpalus is destroying contrasts staunchly with the man himself, sitting indifferently on the diagonal of the painting. This sort of chaos and destruction would have been incredibly jarring to the nineteenth century audience who was coming out of the stark nobility of painters like David (4, 5)
So there are a few of my favorite art historical equines. Anyone else have some to share?
1. Label text for Franz Marc, Die grossen blauen Pferde (1911), from the exhibition Selections from the Permanent Collection, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, December 8, 1996 to April 4, 1999.
World History Episode 8 Alexander the Great (Time Stamp 2:03)
The Alexander Mosaic, at The House of the Faun (Pompeii), 100 BCE
Context in CC: “So quick biography of Alexander of Macedon, born in 356 BCE, died in 323 BCE at the ripe old age of 32.” Only the great die young?
Greater Historical/Art Historical Relevance: Originally located in The House of the Faun in Pompeii, the Alexander Mosaic is a roughly a 9 by 17 foot floor mosaic possibly based on a Hellenistic painting by Philoxenos of Eretria depicting the either the Battle of Issus or the Battle of Gaugamela where Alexander defeated Persian King Darius III.
The mosaic depicts the moment when Darius has ordered his soldiers to retreat, the turning point which signals Alexander’s victory. On the right side of the work, Dairus almost pleads with Alexander as his forces twist away from the Greek forces trying to escape, creating a great dynamism within the piece as all their spears are pointed in the opposite direction at a diagonal. (Diagonal lines are dynamic where perpendicular lines are static). On the left, Alexander (or what’s left of him anyway) stares staunchly back showing no mercy; this defeat of Persia allowing him to eventually expand his empire to its height all the way to Indus Valley.
Art historians speculate that this mosaic was based on a painting by an ancient Greek artist Philoxenos, though that is debatable. While the painting matches literary descriptions, it’s likely that there were many paintings of this important battle. While Philoxenos being the original artist is under debate, it is likely that it was based on an ancient Greek painting, which is fantastic for Art history as a whole.
Painting, is the one medium the Greek used that didn’t survive for us to study, but literature tells us it was very impressive. When we think of Greek art, we think of sculpture, architecture and perhaps ceramics because we have such little evidence of Greek painting. This mosaic however tells us it was rather impressive: the evidence of modeling in the faces—shifts in light and dark, the foreshortening of the horses to create perspective, the use or diagonals to create movement.
This mosaic survives because of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii. Some of the best examples of Ancient Roman art and architecture come from Pompeii, as the eruption preserved the city for hundreds of years until excavation of the site started in the late sixteenth century. The largest number of mosaics, including the Alexander Mosaic, were found in The House of the Faun, one of the largest and most lavishly decorated homes in Pompeii.
Picture Mosaics (in opposition to geometric pattern mosaics) were a less used style of decoration in Pompeii, found only in the houses of richer citizens, and probably deriving from the Greek tradition. These picture mosaics used very tiny tesserae (the small similarly shaped pieces stone and glass used to create the pictures) in a wide variety of colors. The Alexander Mosaic contains an estimated 4 MILLION tesserae! Usual subject matter included animal motifs and sometimes mythological scenes. Because of its size, historical subject matter, and quality, the Alexander Mosaic is considered one of the most outstanding examples of the medium at the time.
Beth Harris and Steven Zucker, “Alexander Mosaic” SmartHistory (Khan Academy). http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/alexander-mosaic.html
"Pompeii." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed June 13, 2013, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T068590.
, et al.
Update April 2, 2013. Hey Guys!
I want to apologize for the lack of updates as of late. School has gotten really crazy as I am gearing up to write my thesis (It’s on online education platforms and communities!)
But not to worry. I’ll begin regular updates again soon. I promise. I love all of you for following this blog and putting up with it’s lack of updates.
To tide you over, here is a list of my favorite art and art history related blogs on tumblr. Give them a look.
My favorite by far is Cave to Canvas (all the Bob Ross stuff was for April Fools yesterday! I promise its an awesome blog) She give you a wonderful spam of art by a different artist. Everyday. On the regular (unlike me). (She also runs the Slow Art Day tumblr. Which is also worth a look)
Other Tumblrs That Give Your Dash Some Art History Loveliness:
Too Much Art, Art and Opinion, Only Artists, and Art Addicts Anonymous
If You want some tumblrs about Contemporary Art and/or the art world today: Hyperallergic, Daily ArtSpace, Contemporary Art Daily, and the wonderful Sarah Green at Absolument Moderne.
Just For Kicks: Artist and Studio (Images of Artists in Their Workspace), Art History Ryan Gosling (Because Of Reasons) Today’s Document (The Tumblr of the National Archives in DC, For the Primary Source Nerd in All of Us) and WTF Art History (For when you look at a work and go WTF? All Explained Here.)
I Hope you all can forgive me for posting so irregularly. I’ll be back soon.
World History Episode 8 Alexander the Great (Time Stamp 1:38)
Portrait of Empress Catherine the Great, Fyodor Rokotov, 1763
Context in CC: “And also “the Great” has some misogynistic implications, like, its almost always men who are called “the Great.” You never hear about Cleopatra the Great, or Elizabeth the Great. Sure, there’s Catherine the Great of Russia, but for all her masculine Greatness she was saddled with the completely untrue rumor that she died trying to scoodilypoop with a horse.” Some one on the Crash Course team really loves puns, my money’s on Stan.
Greater Historical/Art Historical Relevance: So I was going through some of the posts on this blog and I realized there’s more than a few posts about great women: bad ass ladies who ran nations and empires of their own accord. So I’ve decided that this Series will be called HBIC ‘s of History (If you want to see more awesome ladies go to the tag). So without further ado, Catherine the Great:
Catherine arrived in Russia from Germany in 1744, when she was just 14. She was hand picked to be the wife of the Grand Duke Peter, the heir to the throne and her distant cousin. She assumed the title of Grand Duchess and entered into what would ultimately be a failure. Catherine would have never obtained the great power that she did had it not been for her husband, and his potential, or lack thereof. The Grand Duke Peter was “He was extremely neurotic, rebellious, obstinate, perhaps impotent, nearly alcoholic, and, most seriously, a fanatical worshipper of Frederick II of Prussia” (1)
It was this love of Prussia and Germany that allowed Catherine to take power. With the enlightened segments of Russian society and much of the army on her side, she rallied her supporters and declared herself empress. Peter abdicated and was assassinated a week later, though Catherine didn’t order the assassination it was most likely carried out by some of her supporters.
Though she was highly influenced by the Enlightenment thinkers of western Europe, she had the intelligence to realize that the ideas put forward by Montesqueiu and Rousseau were not easily applied with in the existing Russian infrastructure. When her efforts to draft a constitution failed her legacy became one of military expansion. She added over 200,000 square miles to the Russian territory. She brought the Russian dream of access to warm water ports within sight.
Her historical reputation is mixed, while she was a great leader, and chose her advisers and court well, she is often judged for her private life, mostly because she was a woman. She had many lovers, including military leader Potemkin. She had what basically amounted to a harem of men, and she’s often noted as being less than loving towards her legitimate son Paul. None of her personality traits should take away from her political achievements. The rumors surrounding the circumstances of her death were most likely spun from the fact that she was a strong female with a nontraditional personal life. Which seems a bit unfair, if she had been male, her harem would probably have gone overlooked.
World History Episode 7 2000 Years of Chinese History (Time Stamp 3:02)
Washington Crossing the Delaware, Emanuel Leutze, 1851
Context in CC: “…The Qing, which was the last dynasty because in 1911 there was a rebellion, like the ones in, say America, France, or Russia, and the whole dynastic system, which at this point had lasted for a long-ass time, came to an end.
Greater Historical/Art Historical Relevance: So every once in a while Crash Course throws us a piece of art that is completely unrelated to the topic at hand (well, not completely unrelated as they found away to incorporate it), or at least unrelated to the art historical narrative of China. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it, right? Right.
Here we have one of the most iconic images in American history: General George Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, moving in to launch a surprise attack on the Hessian Forces at Trenton. The painter of this iconic image, Emanuel Leutze, created several copies of the work, at least two of which are almost identical except for minor details. Leutze, a German born artist who came to the United States with his parents at a very young age, had moved back to Dusseldorf. It was in the German city that he conceived and executed one of the most memorable images of American History.
In 1850, the first version of the painting was damaged studio fire, and had to be cut off of the canvas to be salvaged. Leutze, though he claimed an insurance settlement, kept the damaged work, restored it and used it as a model for the ‘real’ version.
One of the most fascinating things about Leutze’s painting is the…let’s call it…’artistic license’ he took to make the painting a more visually and emotionally striking, but not necessarily historically accurate depiction of the event. Let us count the ways the Mr. Leutze went ‘wrong:’ The most obvious error is that the ‘stars and stripes’ version of the flag pictured in the painting was not adopted by the Americans until 1777. The time of day is also wrong, as well as the type of boat used, and the likelihood that Washington would have been standing on the boat in such a way is also slim.
Though Emanuel Leutze’s depiction may not be historically accurate, it does fulfill it’s purpose. Leutze was attempting to capture the importance of the moment in the history of the nation, and bestow within it heroics and patriotism. He uses the proud stance of Washington, and the instantly recognizable icon of the ‘stars and stripes’ style flag to evoke certain associations and feelings within the viewer. Would the painting have the same iconic value in the history of the United States had the crossed the river in the freezing rain on larger ferry-like rafts while the general huddled in the bottom of the boat to keep it from capsizing (as it likely would, if he stood as pictured)? Short answer: probably not. Leutze creates a drama situation to intensify the themes and give them more meaning to the viewer.
When we look at history paintings we tend to think more about the time they depict than the time in which they were created, but Emanuel Leutze was living in europe in the late 1840’s, a time ripe with revolutions. In 1848 (The year of revolutions in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the Austrian Empire) he began work on Washington Crossing the Delaware in the hopes that the masses would look to the American Revolution for inspiration. In some ways this work is more a product of that time than the time in depicts. This painting poses a lot of important questions about the nature of heroism, patriotism, and historical bias. What do you think?
1. "Leutze, Emanuel." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed January 5, 2013, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T050679.
2. David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
World History Episode 7 2000 Years of Chinese History (Time Stamp 2:32)
Sui Yangdi (Thirteen Emperors Scroll), Yen Li-Pen (Yan Liben), 7th Century
Context in CC: “China fell again into political chaos —- which only means there was no dynasty ruled over all of China—- and out of this chaos rose the Sui, who were followed quickly by the Tang, who in turn were replaced, after a short period of no dynasty by the Song…”
Greater Historical/Art Historical Relevance: Yen Li-Pen, or Yan Liben, was a painter and government official in the courts of Tang emperors Taizong and Gaozong (Remember them from the story of Empress Wu?) Yen Li-Pen helped establish the cultural and artistic tastes of the Tang dynasty, and was one of few artists to achieve such high rank.
His father, Yan Bi, was an important aristocrat who earned a place in the court of the Sui dynasty as a designer, engineer, and architect. His elder brother, Yan Lide, also held important political posts, which Yan Liben followed him into. He eventually rose to Director of the Secretariat, a post which put him at the forefront of government policy. Though he had high ranking government ambitions, Yan Liben, was also training to be an artist.
He was given several important portrait commissions early in his career, and became equivalent to court painter for the Tang emperor Taizong. Though Chinese history is somewhat biased against artists and artisans, and apparently Yan Liben was not a fan of being on the emperors beck and call:
"According to anecdote, Yan was once hurriedly called forth by Taizong to crouch by a lake and paint some unusual birds bobbing in the water that the emperor found particularly delightful. Apparently, Yan was greatly humiliated by the experience and warned his sons never to become painters” (1).
The Thirteen Emperor’s Scroll is one of Yan Liben’s most recognized and finest works. It depicts, as the title suggests, 13 emperors from the Han dynasty and the Sui dynasty, and various smaller ruling families in between. A large number of the scrolls still in existence are likely 11th century copies. Yan, said to be especially good at the realistic portrayal of faces, is credited with the original scroll and the composition of subsequent scrolls. A seventh century version is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and if you’re interested you can view an interactive digital version of an 11th century copy here.
(1) "Yan Liben." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed December 29, 2012, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T092685
World History Episode 7 2000 Years of Chinese History (Time Stamp 2:19)
Tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, 3rd Century BCE
Context in CC: “[The Warring States Period] ended when the Qin emperor was able to extend his power over most of the heretofore mentioned warring states, but the Qin were replaced by the Han, which really set the pattern for most of China’s history and lasted for almost 400 years.” In which John begins an efficient summary of China’s dynastic history
Greater Historical/Art Historical Relevance: Discovered in 1974, the tomb of Qin emperor Shi Haungdi contains over 8000 figures, including soldiers, horses, and elaborately decorated chariots. Emperor Qin Shihuangdi was the first emperor of the Qin dynasty, he organized the consolidation of the Chinese dynastic empire, establishing a fully centralized government, forcing the aristocratic feudal families to live in the capital, and dividing the country into military districts to ease governance.
He was also responsible for a large amount of standardization in China. He utilized universal weights and measures across his empire, as well as the axel length of carts (I remember thinking this was very interesting in the 9th grade, having never thought about the fact that all cars must be relatively similar in width, in order to drive on roads that were all standard in size. The whole thing revolutionized my thinking about civilization and infrastructure, but I digress).
Though his reign was recorded at length by the successor Han dynasty, He Shihaungdi’s greatest legacy lies in his death, or at least in his tomb (I’m terrible I know). One of the most amazing archeological discoveries of the twentieth century, the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, or rather the tomb complex is basically a small subterranean city situated around the actual tomb of the emperor, and guarded by a massive (and clay) army. The army is grouped in specific military formation of the time: “bowmen and crossbowmen, outer files of archers, groups of infantrymen and charioteers, and an armoured rear guard” (1).
Each soldier has a set of unique facial features, and all were once painted bright colors. These sculptures, along with the other works found in the tombs, bronze chariots decorated with silk and jade, are some of the most important pieces of Chinese art history prior to the Han dynasty. And the crazy part is, there are probably thousands more soldiers waiting to be unearthed. The Qin Tomb is one of those things in history that really makes you reexamine our place, and what brought us here. Because of this, it has been declared a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site, which aims to preserve and promote sites of universal value.
(1) Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Qin tomb”, accessed December 27, 2012, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/111785/Qin-tomb.
(2) Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Shihuangdi”, accessed December 26, 2012, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/540412/Shihuangdi/6623/Emperor-of-China.
(3) UNESCO World Heritage Online, “Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor” December 26th, 2012, http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/441/
(4) John Roach, “Terra Cotta Army Protects First Emperor’s Tomb” National Geographic, http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/archaeology/emperor-qin/