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The Met to celebrate art of Qin and Han dynasties

Show on era that shaped Chinese identity follows modern fashion blockbuster

by Javier Pes  |  1 February 2016
The Met to celebrate art of Qin and Han dynasties
The exhibition will include an earthenware kneeling archer from Emperor Qinshihuang’s mausoleum
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is planning its next major exhibition of Chinese art, hot on the heels of last year’s blockbuster show of Chinese-inspired fashion. Provisionally called The Age of Empires and due to open in March 2017, the show will focus on the art of the Qin and Han dynasties (221BC-AD220), a period roughly coinciding with the rise of Greece and Rome in the West and just as pivotal.  

The display of 180 ceramics, metalwork, textiles, sculpture and paintings may be supplemented with recently discovered artefacts. Since he became the Met’s director, Thomas Campbell has visited China five times. On one trip he went to an archaeological dig at a Han-dynasty tomb, accompanied by Jason Sun, the museum’s curator of Chinese art and show organiser, and Mike Hearn, the chairman of its department of Asian Art. They were able to handle gold and silver animal figurines only recently unearthed. “I remember a beautiful crouching tiger and the sense that it had been preserved despite generations of looters,” Campbell says, adding that he next saw it on display in the Nanjing Museum.

The Met is now negotiating loans from China. Campbell says there are “two dossiers of mouthwatering” potential artefacts. Among those confirmed is an earthenware female dancer and musician from a royal tomb and a group of terracotta warriors, including a kneeling archer from Emperor Qinshihuang’s mausoleum. The exhibition will be a “deeply thoughtful exploration” of art during the centuries, when a new Chinese identity developed under the country’s first centralised government. Chinese and Western experts are writing the accompanying catalogue. 

Last year the Met celebrated the centenary of its Asian art department.  It held a launch of the Costume Institute and Asian art department’s Chinese-inspired fashion exhibition, Through the Looking Glass, in the Palace Museum, Beijing. The show attracted more than 815,000 visitors before it closed in September, making it the Met’s fifth most-visited exhibition.

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