Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Happy New Year. Every year, every month, every week, every day. As Mum used to say - "every day should be mother's day" and so on, and so forth.

I've left the city after a glitzy night way up high, looking out over it in all its splendour; here it is, just before the fireworks turn it into a blur of colour and smoke ...

... and have now retreated back to the highlands which have been covered in wispy mists and drizzle for the last few days. As the fog creeps then retreats, everything is played out in layers, like an ever changing series of mysterious scrims.

The last few days of the year in Sydney were unexpectedly beautiful with a respite from the overcast days, and more overcast days, associated with this La NiƱa, one of the strongest in 20 years. New South Wales is sodden and now Queensland is drowning. And in some regression to the worst of biblical punishments, Mr Hooper from Banana (sic) Shire Council says the snakes are bloody angry.

Meanwhile, back in Sodom, between the sea and the pool, salted and sun kissed, there was time for catching up, starting with a long queue at the Art Gallery of NSW. Well, actually we swished past to the special members desk, which you should too (and if not, why not?) or at least pre-purchase on-line, (believe me, it is a lonngggg queue).

'The First Emperor, China's Entombed Warriors' is on its second visit. Don't wait for a third. In 1974, villagers, digging a well, chanced on the underground army of Qin (pronounced Chin, and thought to be the basis for the English word China) Shihuang, 259BCE - 210 BCE. Ascending the throne at 13 and taking control of the affairs of state at 21, he ruthlessly conquered and united rival states, and in a desperate attempt to obliterate the past (don't they all) finally set about the burning of all the books of the empire and the live burial of 460 scholars, himself dying two years later. Charming little fellow.

Fear knows no ends, especially in the face of the unknown, and he took his terracotta army with him in death, to guard his tomb, to secure immortality. Perfectly employed facing east there lies a staggering 8,000 life-sized soldiers, 140 chariots, 560 chariot horses and 116 cavalry horses, in 4 pits (one empty, suggesting his death before completion) covering 25,000 sq metres.

The realism of these clay figures, the power of their presence and the perfection of every detail, not one the same as any other, each hand finished, is such that you struggle to believe that they aren't the very bodies of dead warriors, ossified and preserved by the earth. In the darkened room stand ten (of the 1900 uncovered so far of the 8000) - an armoured general, armoured military officer, light infantryman, armoured infantryman, standing archer, armoured kneeling archer, cavalryman, cavalry horse, charioteer, and a chariot horse.

(chariot horse - the colours here are a reasonably good representation of the real thing)

(standing archer)

(cavalry horse)

(armed kneeling archer)


Other rooms trace the beginnings and the rise of the Qin state, the life of Qin Shihuang, and his burial complex designed to conquer the afterlife.

(He kettle - 770-476 BCE - bronze)

(Tiger plaque - 475-221 BCE - silver; from Ordos region north of great wall, the ribbing and robust style features of 'Ordos' style)

All pictures, variably cropped, are from the Gallery's (invaluable) official book.

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