The Collegian
Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Terracotta comes to the VMFA: the means of an army

More than 120 Chinese artifacts, including ten life-sized terracotta figures, are on display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in the exhibit “Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China.” 

“You are about to take a journey 22 centuries back in time,” Alex Nyerges, the museum’s director, said. “You’re going to join the first emperor of China, Qin Shihuang, in what I consider to be the most important archeological discovery of all time.”

The ticketed exhibit, which will be at the VMFA until March 11, 2018, has a variety of displays, including 40 works of art that have never before been displayed in the U.S. It is presented in three sections, including the exploration of the rise of Ying Zheng (259 - 210 BCE), who unified China and declared himself Qin Shihuang, and the history of ancient China. 

The terracotta figures displayed in this exhibit were among the estimated 8,000 life-sized sculptures of warriors, chariots and horses that accompanied Qin Shihuang into the afterlife. They were first discovered in 1974 by local farmers in the Lintong District, outside Xi’an in the Shaanxi province of China. 

The exhibit also features arms and armor, horse and chariot fittings, jade ornaments, jewelry, ceramics and bronze pieces found in the emperor’s mausoleum complex. 

Displays such as this one are a great opportunity for students to engage with the community and apply classroom topics to real-life evidence, Elizabeth Baughn, an archeology and classics professor who recently took her first-year seminar students to the exhibit, said.

“I think it’s great for students to be exposed to the museum and understand that it’s an amazing resource that the city of Richmond has to offer,” she said. “I think what we can tell about the preservation and the manufacture of these statues is really fascinating, like the question of how they were made and where they were fired is an interesting one.” 

The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement will provide transportation to any learning or service site, including the VMFA exhibit. The center encourages community-based learning that “fully integrates classroom and community elements,” according to its website. 

“It’s important for students to experience these things first hand because it really brings the topics we talk about to life," Baughn said. "Seeing something in a book or on a slide in class just doesn’t accomplish the same thing.” 

Contact lifestyle writer Emma Phelps at

Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter

Support independent student media

You can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking the button below, which takes you to our secure PayPal account. The page is set up to receive contributions in whatever amount you designate. We look forward to using the money we raise to further our mission of providing honest and accurate information to students, faculty, staff, alumni and others in the general public.

Donate Now