Why is the Terracotta Army important

Power and splendor of the Terracotta Army

This general has no army. A single archer is at his side. The Chinese general's gaze falls on Greek thinkers and gods, athletes with washboard abs and lamenting boys. They come from the same time as he, the artists of the Qin dynasty created 2200 years ago and given to their emperor on the way to the afterlife. In the Museum for Casts of Classical Sculptures in Munich, copies of statues of two contemporary, far apart high cultures of antiquity are now assembled. They are sculptures made according to similar aesthetic ideas. In detailed realism. And brightly colored.

But only the general and the rifleman are painted in color, most of the Greek figures, on the other hand, are dazzling white - as tastes recommended since the end of the 18th century. Because of: The Greeks once gave their statues a very lively appearance. "Luminous, thickly applied colors characterize the paintings at this time in the east as well as in the west," says Catharina Blänsdorf from the Technical University of Munich.

Felix Horn reconstructs this warrior virtually on the basis of a three-dimensional scan. With a haptic input device, the restorer “feels” the model displayed on the screen in several stages. Why this terracotta figure had a green face is still a mystery. "Possibly she should represent a shaman," says Horn.

The restorer has been researching in China for a decade and a half. Together with her colleague Carolin Roth, she created the replicas of the two warriors: the shining result of a cooperation initiated more than two decades ago with researchers from the Shaanxi province who were looking for urgently needed know-how in Munich for restoration and the use of modern technology.

Restorers who restore or conserve objects need precise knowledge of their original condition. But without technology and the natural sciences, their work is no longer conceivable today. Your aids are polarization microscopes, X-ray diffractometry, and scanning electron microscopes.

What the people of Munich know after years of research on the Terracotta Army: Their colors were applied with brushes of different thicknesses on a primer made from the sap of the East Asian lacquer tree, and they were of the best quality - as befitted the emperor's grave. The colors were always mixed according to the same pattern and applied to all figures according to a recurring scheme. The cuffs and lining were in a contrasting color, and the collars were painted differently. “A multitude of lively colors are often combined in a sculpture. Each figure's clothing color and skin tones vary. There are even different eye colors, ”says Blänsdorf. This made the warriors individual persons.

Photos of fragments, even drawings, can never convey what the terracotta warriors really looked like. Therefore, Blänsdorf and her colleagues decided to paint the replicas based on historical models. As models, they chose two plaster casts that were coated with black-brown Qi varnish by Chinese painters: the archer 02812 from pit 2, the color of which was unequivocally reconstructed, and a general - technical name: T20 G10: 97 - from pit 1. Parallel the restorer Felix Horn reconstructed two more warriors on the computer.

Watercolors served as models. Catharina Blänsdorf recorded her findings with them. For example the patterns on the general's armor. Light green ornaments on a black background show stylized pairs of birds with suns and geometric patterns, three green bows each applied to the chest and back set accents. Archaeological finds confirm that valuable silk clothes with similar patterns were worn in China a good two millennia ago. Not only that: the artists and craftsmen of the Qin dynasty painted the terracotta warriors so realistically that the ornaments warped over the body like a fabric pattern.

Catharina Blänsdorf and Carolin Roth wanted to represent all of this true to the original. They worked on the figures for three months. They ground the pigments and mixed them with egg and glue. Hour after hour they designed the ornaments, the lozenges that were distorted over the curves of the body. And they looked for the best shade for the faces, first a dark layer of pink, then a light layer to create the impression of translucent skin. "If you don't get the nuance, it looks either cheesy or made up," says Blänsdorf. With the finest brushes they painted the brows, the beard, even the hair on the back of the neck.

Just like the craftsmen in central China 2200 years ago. With every single figure of the terracotta army. At least 6000 times.

The sculptures in Munich now give a vivid impression of the warriors of the first Chinese emperor. But the unique burial object is more threatened than ever. Attempts to consolidate the flaking varnish were promising. Another method developed by a team led by chemist Heinz Langhals could work in the long term. It provides for the monomer HEMA, a plastic, to penetrate through the pigment layer and the primer in order to then polymerize it by electron bombardment. In this way, the paint could be permanently bound to the clay. But small and inexpensive devices are not yet available.

The Terracotta Army is at greater risk from the modernization of China. 25 years ago, when Erwin Emmerling from the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation traveled to Xi’an for the first time, it was a small town and today's Lintong district was a farming village. Millions of people now live here. Water consumption is increasing, the falling water table is causing the earth to dry out - and the army's coat of paint is crumbling. "The halls with the excavation sites would have to be air-conditioned," says Emmerling, now a professor at the Technical University of Munich. “We need intelligent technology, plants and, ideally, new buildings made of clay to regulate the humidity in a natural way. But modern China is made of concrete. " Emmerling fears that time is running out.

Are the generals losing their army?

Also read our article "China's legendary terracotta warriors"!

(NG, issue 06/2012, page (s) 82 to 85)