A few weekends ago, we were invited along with a large group of Seville bloggers to a preview of a new exhibition of Chinese soldier statues, replicas of the famed Terracotta Army.
The original works are 8,000 life-sized statues of soldiers, horses and chariots which were buried with Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, and discovered in Shaanxi province in the 1970s.
The exhibition, of 150 figures, is in a large tent on the Muelle de las Delicias, next to the river and close to the Aquarium, and the new Noria (Big Wheel). This would be a great educational-but-fun family outing for the December Puente (bank holiday weekend, 7-10 December), or over the Christmas holidays – Chinese art and history, followed by marine biology (complete with shark tank) next door.
As you enter the exhibition, on the left is a large room with rows of chairs and a huge screen, showing a fascinating 30-minute documentary (in English, subtitled in Spanish) about the pottery techniques which would have been used to produce the army – a long and painstaking project which took 10 years – and how the figures were restored.
Rather than using a mould to make all the soldiers, which would have been easier and faster, each one was made individually, using a complicated process of coiling clay. Each statue took a month to make because the workers kept having to pause and allow the clay to dry. All the figures have different hair, facial expressions and hand gestures. A staggering 87 teams worked on producing the statues, with a total of 1,000 workers employed on the project. In this way, around 1000 statues were produced each year, and 8,000 in all.
One of the most interesting parts of the documentary is when they show a German archaeologist who made two full-size replicas, brightly coloured as the originals would have been. Reactions to her carefully researched experiment, using traces of lacquer-covered paint found on the state to recreate the colours used 2,000-odd years ago, were mixed when shown in a museum in Munich.
Leaving this room, you find exquisite pieces of animal art which create a context for the era of the soldiers, around 200 BC. We loved the phoenix vessel and dragon with tiger body. Panels explain about Emperor QSH’s vast army, comparable to that of Alexander the Great, although he wanted to unite his people, rather than to fight, after a long period (250 years) of warring empires. You can also read about other later, similar figures which have been discovered – the Han Army. Some 40,000 figures from this dynasty, 206 BC to 220AD, were unearthed in 1999.
Then you can see weapons and jewellery such as bronze swords, jade fish, and more tigers and dragons.
At the far end of the space are statues against a regal red backdrop, next to which you can pose and have your photo taken by your friends. A bit kitsch, but fun. Then you go into another darkened room, where you can see a reproduction of the warriors as they were found – rows of replicas, a total of 90 figures.
Arranged in the exact formation as when unearthed, the figures in battle dress are made to appear far more numerous by a large photographic panel on the wall behind – the effect is that the armoured soldiers seem to stretch off into the distance. Dramatic lighting picks out specific figures as they are talked about in the Spanish voice-over – the horses, carriages and soldiers.
Then you can see various different types of warriors, archers, cavalrymen in individual cases, with panels explaining their armour, weapons, hairstyles and so on.
Finally the children’s area has colouring sheets and the inevitable sand boxes with plastic shovels so they can excavate bits of pottery.
We enjoyed the exhibition, despìte the warm temperatures in the tent and the crowds on the first day. I would strongly recommend that you watch the documentary before looking at the exhibits – it provides essential background information which sets the scene perfectly, so you get the most out of your visit.
Terracotta Army: Guerreros de Xi’an is on at the Muelle de Delicias until 13 March 2016.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 9pm, Sundays and holidays 10am to 7pm. Closed Mondays (except 7, 21, 28 December, 4 January 10am-9pm).
Holiday opening hours: Thursday 24 and 31 December 10am to 2pm, Friday 25 January and 1 January 4.30pm to 8pm, Tuesday 5 January 10am to 7pm.
For more information see their website.