Army of the First Emperor of Qin – Artwork Analysis

Art and design is a field whose relevance and applicability has persisted throughout history. In particular, China is wide-known for its numerous pieces of art and crafting techniques dating back to ancient times. For instance, art and craft blossomed during the Qin dynasty period, particularly clay works. One of the most prominent artworks of that time is the Army of the First Emperor of Qin, a collection of terracotta sculptures that embodied a real Chinese army. The collection was discovered in 1974 in Lintong County by local farmers. Archaeologists ordered by the Chinese government gradually unearthed extraordinary sculptures of terracotta soldiers who physically looked like the Chinese people of that time (Quinn et al., 2017). With its peculiar stylistic features, the Army of the First Emperor of Qin conveys various aspects from ancient China during Qin’s reign.

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Subject Matter

The Terracotta Army embodies several aspects of the Qin dynasty and ancient China in general. Firstly, the artwork hints at the emperor’s plans to conquer and unify the warring Chinese states under his reign. According to the archaeological findings, the clay soldiers faced the eastern side of the ancient Qui state, a region where other states were located (Quinn et al., 2017). Hence, the Terracotta Army’s focus on the east depicts his determination to engage in conquests. Secondly, the Terracotta Army depicts the perfect organization of Qin’s army, which enabled him to defeat his enemies (Shi, 2014). Importantly, the Terracotta Army comprises of about 7,000 clay soldiers, including cavalry, foot soldiers, archers, and horses with chariots. The sheer size symbolizes the army’s might and the destruction it might cause. The organization of soldiers provides a model through which Emperor Qin prepared his powerful troops for war (Li et al., 2016). Additionally, the artwork indicates the belief of the ancient Chinese in life after death. In particular, the clay soldiers surround a tomb that was supposed to be the place where Emperor Qin would spend his afterlife (Wu & Long, 2016). In fact, the soldiers take a military formation with real weapons and armor, which shows their readiness to protect their king in the spiritual world. Thus, the artwork was perfectly done to depict the status of the Qin dynasty and the cultural aspects of ancient China during the reign of Emperor Qin.

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The history of the Terracotta Army dates back to 2200 years ago. The construction began in 246 BC during the reign of Emperor Qin, who was the first emperor of China. Qin became an emperor at a very young of thirteen years after his father’s death (Li et al., 2016). Despite his young age, Qin established a powerful army to conquer other Chinese states and unify the entire region under one dynasty. He then established a centralized government and declared himself the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty (Shi, 2014). Since the ancient Chinese practiced art and craft extensively, the craftsmen constructed the Terracotta Army and the tomb for their emperor easily. After completing the tomb, Qin covered it with grass and trees to resemble a natural landscape and hide it. Moreover, fearing that the constructors might disclose his work, he ordered his officials to lock them in and have them die there (Quinn et al., 2017). As a result, the funerary artwork remained unknown until it was accidentally found by some farmers digging a well.

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The Army of the First Emperor of Qin serves several purposes. Firstly, as has been mentioned, the sheer army of terracotta soldiers was supposed to keep the legacy of Emperor Qin. For a long time, the ancient Chinese states had been waging wars against each other. However, Emperor Qin managed to conquer and unify China under one dynasty. Hence, the terracotta army was supposed keep his achievement long after his death (Li et al., 2016). Secondly, the terracotta army promoted craft and design work in ancient China as a joint economic activity. Since the construction and assembling of the artwork was quite demanding in terms of labor, the craftsmen would share ideas and acquire new skills during construction. Thirdly, the artwork provides insights into the formation, dressing code, ranks, and weapons used by the ancient Chinese army. Besides, the clay tomb illustrates the design of burial grounds of the ancient Chinese. Lastly, the artwork challenged people to plan and prepare for the future. By having his tomb and the terracotta army constructed, Emperor Qin encouraged his subjects to prepare for their future lives as well, especially after their deaths.

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The style of the terracotta army is life-like; it demonstrates a remarkable balance between the individuality of each separate soldier and the conformity of a great army. The whole military exhibits patterns and repetition whereby the soldiers are of similar size and have repetitive standing poses (Li et al., 2016). In addition, the warriors form regular patterns of consistent rows, creating a sense of solidarity similar to that of a real army of that time. From their unified appearance, it is clear that the soldiers are expected to work collectively in order to enforce, protect, and expand their emperor’s power even after his death. While a few minor features and costumes differentiate the sculpture army from human armies, the entire display of the Terracotta Army represents perfectly real warriors.


The primary medium used in making the artwork was terracotta, a low-temperate clay used to make the sculptures with their varying physical appearances. The construction process of the Terracotta Army included several procedures. The clay was melded to form different parts and then assembled after being fired on an oven (Quinn et al., 2017). The assembly process involved combining the various elements appropriately and then individualizing each sculpture. In order to ensure that the figures looked different from each other, artisans used hand modeling and painting to design different facial expressions, hairstyles, and limb postures. Furthermore, a small proportion of mercury was included during melding to ensure the durability of each sculpture (Shi, 2014). Overall, the work involved was substantial and diversified.

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Formal Analysis

The installation of the soldiers in the artwork provides a clear path for formal analysis considering the scale of the entire military and individual warriors as well as the figure proportion. According to Shi (2014), the soldiers stand next to the burial site of Emperor Qin to reflect their commitment to protecting their emperor after his physical death. An analysis of the whole army show that its scale is immense. The rigid figures of soldiers appear in a linear formation and with uniformed military poses, combined with naturalistic features of hairstyle, headgear, armor, shoes, belts, and other items of military gear. The proportions of each individual figure are realistic. Taken together, the figures create a picture of a real army. Postures like bending body parts and folding clothes increase the sense of verisimilitude, which would be more conspicuous if the figures were in their original paint.  The linear planes illustrated in the soldiers’ military postures combined with similar garment and other accessories create the picture of the protection responsibility. Some clay warriors have actual weapons made of bronze and iron, indicating that their security purpose was perceived to be beyond symbolic. Each individual warrior’s scale is approximately a foot larger than life. Furthermore, the terracotta warriors have rectangular faces with high and wide cheekbones and broad cheeks, indicating their fitness and strength (Quinn et al. 2017). These features of the Terracotta Army are closely related to the features of the Qin dynasty era’s people who lived in the modern Shaanxi Province where the archaeologists found the Terracotta Army. 


In conclusion, the Army of the First Emperor of Qin is a collection of sculptures constructed within a burial site to embody the real army during Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s reign. Emperor Qin authorized the construction of this army to appease his obsession with immortality and ensure that he remained under protection in his afterlife. The army symbolized the incredible power of Emperor Qin’s real army that enabled him to conquer all the warring states within China and unite them under his administration. Each warrior in the Terracotta Army looks individualized and realistic whereas, taken together, the sculptures convey the conformity of a great army. The warriors were melded from different parts using terracotta. Hand modeling and painting methods helped to finalize the assembly and individualize every figure. The army occupied real space, surrounding the tomb of the emperor just like a real army. The scale of the entire army is immense, while the proportion of individual figures is realistic. The scale of individual warriors is approximately a foot larger than life. The warriors have rectangular faces with high and wide cheekbones and broad cheeks, an indication of their fitness and strength. These features are closely related to the physical appearance of people living at the time of the Qin dynasty in the modern Shaanxi Province where archaeologists found the Terracotta Army.

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