Considered from within a chronological framework, the collection commences with Neolithic earthenware, dating from around 4100 BCE, and features unique pieces such as a white-glazed tripod ewer with handle from the Dawenkou and Majiayao eras (c. 4100 BCE-2600 BCE). Highlights of the collection include bronze swords and a bronze ritual ding(or funerary storage urn) from the Warring States Period (480 BCE-220 BCE), funerary objects from the Han (206 BCE-220 CE) and Tang (618 CE-907 CE) eras, various celadon glazes from the Song period (960 CE-1279 CE), tea-ceremony related ceramics from the Jin era (1115 CE-1234 CE), Yuan dynasty Longquan celadon glazed ware (1279 CE-1368 CE), and the notable blue and white porcelains of the Ming dynasty (1368 CE-1644 CE).
Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong, and Jiaqing porcelains and glazed pieces from the Qing dynasty (1644 CE-1912 CE) also feature in this comprehensive collection.
The Nat Yuen Collection functions as a portal to China’s diverse cultural history. A ‘TLV’ bronze mirror from the Han dynasty, named from its markings that resemble the letters T, L, and V on its unpolished back, exemplifies not only the technological sophistication of the Chinese bronze age, but also pinpoints the existence of a complicated cosmological cartography and established practices of divination appropriated from such sources as Buddhist mandala drawings as well as the Chinese game of liubo. The polished side of the bronze mirror would have served the purpose of providing a reflection, however these mirrors were mostly used as talismans.
In the collection is a ubiquitous earthenware Tang horse that is accompanied by a sculpture of its groom (Fig. 3). The groom waits, reins in hand, readying the steed for its owner to mount. Used as funerary objects, their unadorned and white-painted facial features signify their otherworldly role. The groom’s Central Asian attire communicates his Sogdian origins and more widely the internationalism of the Tang era as well as the influence of the trade routes of the Silk Road on Tang dynasty art. The size of these statues and their finesse underscores the high social status of the deceased.