Terracotta warriors and stained-glass saints

Terracotta warriors and stained-glass saints

After reading so much about the famous terracotta warriors, I am eagerly looking forward to seeing some of them with my own eyes. Eight of these life-size guardians, from the thousands at the tomb of the emperor Qin Shi Huang, will visit Te Papa in December – along with exquisite pieces of gold, jade and bronze Chinese tomb art. It will be an exceptional exhibition.

Only thirteen when he became the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang died aged thirty-six. Focusing on afterlife with his ancestors, he built an underground city of the dead where ranks of terracotta warriors guarded access to his tomb. It was an immense conception, and a stupendous use of imperial resources.

While waiting to see the visiting terracotta guardians, make time to look at stained-glass guardians that are always in Wellington. Friends of Te Papa made a fascinating visit to St Mary of the Angels church in 2017, when earthquake strengthening was completed. Read about it here.  It is worth going again to focus on eight of the magnificent stained-glass windows from Munich. The Queen of Heaven and seven saints guard the nave of the church, standing in windows with jewel-like colours, sumptuous fabrics and luxuriant foliage. Their symbolism goes back to ancient times – Celtic, Roman and Old Testament.

The saints look out from their windows, accompanied by relics that speak for them after their death. The material world of the church encloses the saints. The immortal sphere of God encloses the church.

This microcosm of expanding spheres echoes the Emperor’s tomb, within an underground palace, within the empire of China. Think of an ancient Chinese puzzle ball. An exquisitely carved ivory sphere is at the centre of another ivory sphere enclosed by another, and another.

Ann Palmer
Member, Friends of Te Papa


Image credit: Ann Palmer