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SOAS archaeologist awarded fellowship to explore early Chinese sculpture

22 May 2014

Dr Lukas Nickel, a scholar on the archaeology of China at SOAS, University of London, has been awarded a Leverhume Research Fellowship to pursue a project on early Chinese sculpture.

‘Early Chinese Sculpture in the Asian Context - Art History and Technology’ follows up on questions raised in Dr Nickel’s article ‘The First Emperor and Sculpture in China’ published in Bulletin of SOAS, a leading interdisciplinary journal on Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Terracotta Warrior

In this article, the scholar argued there are “likely” to be links between the Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor of China and influences from the West. In the centuries before the First Emperor’s rule, Dr Nickel explains life-sized and realistic sculpture was not created in China. The idea perhaps emerged from Hellenistic kingdoms in Asia that were established following the conquests by Alexander the Great.

The aim of Dr Nickel’s new project is to investigate Chinese sculpture of the 3rd century BC from several angles and to place it into the artistic development of the wider Asian continent. It will especially look into the way how terracotta and bronze sculpture was made, in order to compare the sculptural technologies with the ones used in the contemporary Hellenistic and Central Asian world.

Dr Nickel commented: “I am delighted to receive the fellowship award. In this projects I will pursue my investigation in Xian on the tomb of the First Emperor, and on contemporary sculpture in Central Asia (Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan), and in museum collections in Russia and Europe. The research scope is set wider to identify local technological developments and practices – I will include earlier figurative art of Bronze Age China and extend the investigation into the early Buddhist period. I will also cooperate in this research with scholars in China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain.”

The project is part of a long-term research scheme that looks at evidence for early interaction between China and the Hellenistic world, and will be published in a monograph on the topic.