Apart from the various crossbowmen, infantry, generals and horses, there are strongmen, acrobats and musicians and wonderfully rendered bronze birds. They are extraordinary in themselves but all the more so when you realise that when the army was first discovered, almost all of the figures were in pieces, many in 80 or more. For several years they were the world's biggest 3D jigsaw puzzle. That must make them even more fragile than when they were made some 2300 years ago. And maybe that's why so few figures have been shipped over. This does lessen the impact of the find - you've doubtless seen the photographs of them lined up in their hundreds as if about to march to war. Having just a dozen of them simply wasn't as impressive as I wanted it to be. But well worth a visit if you can get there. The exhibition is on until 6th April 2008.
One curious little piece of info I gleaned from the show is that the Emperor's tomb itself has not yet been opened. No one quite knows what to expect but a near-contemporary description states that there are loaded crossbows that will kill any who defile it. It also states that the tomb has untold treasures buried within including a copy of the imperial palace complete with rivers of mercury. Probes at the site have already detected high concentrations of that metal ... so watch this space.
Even the name - Shibboleth - is about division. A 'shibboleth' is a word that cannot be easily pronounced by a person from a different culture from your own. Therefore it identifies them as 'different'. It originates in a Bible story. In the Book of Judges, the Ephraimites flee across the River Jordan but are stopped by their enemies, the Gileadites. The Gileadites ask each Ephraimite to say the word 'shibboleth' in order to pass. But as the Ephraimites had no 'sh' sound in their language, they could not pronounce it and were identified, captured and executed.
It's an interesting piece (although how the Health and Safety people allowed it I have no idea - I can't see the exhibit ending without at least one broken ankle or toppled wheelchair). And visiting the Tate gave me an excuse to go and ogle at some of my favourite pieces by Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Jean Arp, Joan Miro, Constantin Brancussi, Karel Appel and the always wonderful Anish Kapoor. And spend too much time and money in the book shop.
I just missed the new Marcel Duchamp exhibition as it starts tomorrow. Bugger. Still, that gives me an excuse to go back soon I guess.
And there are always other urinals to visit.
Shibboleth photos by me