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'Warriors, Tombs and Temples,' the sequel, at the Bowers Museum

October 7, 2011 |  3:47 pm

The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana set record attendance for its "Terra Cotta Warriors" exhibition in 2008, drawing more than 200,000 visitors. Like most sequels, the museum hopes to build on that success and fascination with its new show "Warriors, Tombs and Temples," which opened last week.

The exhibition features nearly 150 recent discoveries in tombs, some 2,000 years old, from the Qin, Han and Tang dynasties. The man-made burial mounds and tunnels were built in and around what is now Xi'an, the capital of China's Shaanxi province.

GreenfaceThe highlights include four of the famous life-size terra-cotta figures that protected the ruthless   Emperor Qin (221-206 BC) in his afterlife, including the newest find, a green-faced kneeling archer, being shown for the first time in the U.S. Excavated in 2000, it's the only figure to date to have been painted green, stirring speculation as to its purpose; could it have been a sniper's camouflage? Poised for battle behind the warriors is a stately black and red chariot horse.

Qin was an unpopular ruler, and sections of his tomb were burned and looted within a year of his death. Not wanting to break the bank building extravagant tombs as their predecessors had, the emperors of the Han (206 BC-AD 220) dynasty miniaturized their statues. "Most of them have smiles or gentle expressions, because it was a happier time," said museum president, Peter C. Keller.

Treasures from the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906) reflect the emergence of the ancient city of Chang'an (now Xi'a  n) as a cultural and economic center because of its location at the beginning of the northern route of the Silk Road.

Gold, silver and glass artifacts, including several gilt bowls and cosmetic boxes, are just a few of the objects in the show influenced by techniques and materials imported from the West. A delicate gilt bronze dragon figure, also from the Tang dynasty, is a prime piece in the show. The rarely scene artifact required tough negotiations for inclusion in the show.

A rare mural of two polo players painted on a Tang dynasty tomb wall offers a sophisticated version of the cave-like art form. "They would paint scenes of whatever the emperor wanted to do with his leisure time in the afterlife," Keller said.

"It's loved and embraced by the Chinese," said Julie Lee, curator of exhibitions at the museum. "We're so used to seeing three-dimensional objects; this mural is so lively, and we can see the artistry and expression in the faces and the details of the clothing."

Requests for the mural by several museums have it tentatively booked through the year 2016.

Dragon The Tang dynasty is when Buddhism was introduced to the region. Several ritual objects and artifacts discovered in 1987 at the Famen Monastery in Shaanxi province are also on view. Most notable is a set of nesting reliquary boxes where Buddha's sacred finger bone was once housed. The bone is not part of the exhibition, which does include square casket boxes made of precious metals and stones decorated with images of Buddha.

All the pieces are on loan from China and are being shown in partnership with the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The Bowers show concludes March 4.

The Bowers Museum is located 2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana. Tickets: Tues-Thurs. Adults $21. Seniors and Students $14. Fri-Sun. Adults $23.  Seniors and students $19. 714-567-3600.

 -- Liesl Bradner

Images: Figure of Chariot Horse, Qin Dynasty (221 - 206 BC), Earthenware; Figure of Kneeling Archer, Qin Dynasty (221 - 206 BC) Earthenware, with visible pigment; Figure of Dragon, Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD), Gilt Iron; On loan from the Museum of the Terra Cotta Army of Emperor Qin Shihuangdi. Photographs from Bowers Museum.