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Age of Empires: Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties

Sun, Jason Zhixin, with contributions by I-Tien Hsing, Cary Y. Liu, Pengliang Lu, Lillian Lan-ying Tseng, Yang Hong, Robin D. S. Yates, Zhonglin Yukina Zhang
268 pages
290 illustrations
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Spanning four centuries, from 221 B.C. to A.D. 220, the Qin and Han dynasties were pivotal to Chinese history, establishing the social and cultural underpinnings of China as we know it today. Age of Empires: Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties is a revelatory study of the dawn of China’s imperial age, delving into more than 160 objects that attest to the artistic and cultural flowering that occurred under Qin and Han rule.

Before this time, China consisted of seven independent states. They were brought together by Qin Shihuangdi, the self-proclaimed First Emperor of the newly unified realm. Under him, the earliest foundations of the Great Wall were laid, and the Qin army made spectacular advances in the arts of war—an achievement best expressed in the magnificent army of lifesize terracotta warriors and horses that stood before his tomb, seven of which are reproduced here. The Han built on the successes of the Qin, the increasing wealth and refinement of the empire reflected in dazzling bronze and lacquer vessels, ingeniously engineered lamps, and sparkling ornaments of jade and gold from elite Han tombs. But of all the achievements of the Qin-Han era, the most significant is, no doubt, the emergence of a national identity, for it was during this time of unprecedented change that people across the empire began to see themselves as one, with China as their common homeland.

With its engaging, authoritative essays and evocative illustrations, Age of Empires provides an invaluable record of a unique epoch in Chinese history, one whose historic and artistic impact continues to resonate into the modern age.

Winged cup, Lacquer, China
Mirror with game board design and animals of the four directions, Bronze with black patina, China
1st–2nd century
Mirror with animals of the four directions and other mythical creatures, Bronze, China
1st–2nd century
Belt Buckle with Beaked Ungulates, Gilded bronze, China
2nd century BCE
Strap Crossing with Crouching Bear, Silver, North China
North China
3rd–2nd century BCE
Terracotta kantharos (drinking cup), Terracotta, Etruscan
late 4th century BCE
Inscriptions from the Stele of Mount Yi, Xu Xuan  Chinese, Modern rubbings; ink on paper, China
Xu Xuan
date of stele: Song dynasty (960–1279)
Central Watchtower, Earthenware with green lead glaze, China
1st–early 3rd century

View Citations

Sun, Zhixin. 2017. Age of Empires: Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties. New York New Haven (Conn.) London: The Metropolitan museum of art distributed by Yale university press.