“I have been aware of the Han figures for a long time but was really blown away when I actually saw them at the excavation site of the tomb of the Han emperors in Xian, China. They were made very simply and crudely. The bodies would have been dressed in silk robes and they have no arms as these were made of wood – both robes and arms have decayed over the centuries. What are left are these strangely monolithic figures. I was offered a group of them and have grouped them with archaeological celadon jars and bowls from the Sisatchanalai kilns in Thailand and recovered from the Royal Nanhai shipwreck off the coast of Malaysia.”
Bouke de Vries
The Royal Nanhai was a Siamese junk which sank in the mid-15th century whilst transporting over 20,000 pieces of green and brown glazed Celadon ceramic from the Sisatchanalai kilns in Thailand to the southern port of Tuban in Eastern Java. Some 550 years later in 1992, the ship was rediscovered by a dedicated team of marine salvage experts headed by renowned Sten Sjöstrand and renamed the Royal Nanhai in honour of the 15th century Chinese name for the South China Sea, Nanhai.
The majority of the pottery pieces recovered from the wreck of the Royal Nanhai were severely deteriorated, partly due to their long submersion period. Of the recoverable twenty percent, most pieces were donated to the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur and a further representative selection was given to the Pekan Museum in Pahang State and the Malacca Museum Corporation. Their unquestionable authenticity and precise dating provide a level of provenance that is rarely seen today in the Southeast Asian antique pottery market, and several international museums, including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, now display pieces from the Royal Nanhai as reference material.