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“When you see your face reflected here, this mirror will dispel all harms and woes. May the Central Kingdom [China] be peaceful and secure, and prosper for generations and generations to come, by following the great law that governs all.”—excerpt from an inscription written on the back of a mirror on view in the exhibition.
A major international loan exhibition featuring more than 160 ancient Chinese works of art—including renowned terracotta army warriors. Synthesizing new in-depth research and archaeological discoveries of the last 50 years, the landmark exhibition Age of Empires: Chinese Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C.– A.D. 220) will explore the unprecedented role of art in creating a new and lasting Chinese cultural identity. The works in the exhibition—extremely rare ceramics, metalwork, textiles, sculpture, painting, calligraphy, and architectural models—are drawn exclusively from 31 museums and archaeological institutions in the People’s Republic of China, and a majority of the works have never before been seen in the West. The exhibition will also examine ancient China’s relationship with the outside world. [...]
Jason Sun, Brooke Russell Astor Curator of Chinese Art in The Met’s Department of Asian Art, stated: “The Han Empire represents the ‘classical’ era of Chinese civilization, coinciding in importance and in time with Greco-Roman civilization in the West. Like the Roman Empire, the Han state brought together people of diverse backgrounds under a centralized government that fostered a new ‘Chinese’ identity. Even today, most Chinese refer to themselves as the ‘Han people’—the single largest ethnic group in the world. Thanks to new scholarship as well as the extraordinary artifacts unearthed by archaeologists in the past 50 years, this exhibition offers many new art-historical, cultural, and political insights. I’m delighted that Age of Empires can introduce this largely unknown era of Chinese civilization to our global audience.”
Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether you go or not, the exhibition catalog, Age of Empires: Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties, presents the art and culture of China during one of the most critical periods of its history – the four centuries from 221 B.C. to A.D. 200-- when, for the first time, people of diverse backgrounds were brought together under centralized imperial rule that fostered a new and unified identity. The Qin and Han empires represent the “classical” era of Chinese civilization, coinciding in both importance and timing with the Greco-Roman period in the West. Under the short-lived Qin and centuries-long Han, warring principalities were united under a common emperor, creating not only political and intellectual institutions but also the foundation for a Chinese art, culture, and national identity that lasted over two millennia. Over 150 works from across the full breadth of Chinese artistic and decorative media-- including ceramics, metalwork, textiles, armor, sculpture, and jewelry – are featured in this book and attest to the unprecedented role of art in ancient Chinese culture. These stunning objects, among them soldiers from the renowned terracotta army of Qin Shihuang, China’s first emperor, are drawn from institutions and collections in China and appear here together for the first time.
Essays by leading scholars, accompanied by dazzling new photography of the objects, address the sweeping societal changes underway, and trace a progression from the early, formative years through unprecedented sophistication and technical accomplishment—embodied in an artistic legacy that reverberates in China’s national identity to this day.