Culture Culture

23/11/2018 - 08:28

Decoration at Dien Tho Palace

At the complex of Dien Tho, pottery and porcelain mosaics can be found everywhere, on the gate, the screens and the exterior of Dien Tho Principal Palace, Tinh Minh Pavilion and Ta Truong Du.

Belonging to the complex of architectural constructions in the Imperial City, Dien Tho served as residence for the 8 Dowager Empresses and the 4 Grand Dowager Empresses. Experiencing wars as well as many historical incidents and ups and downs, over time, Dien Tho Palace is in ruins. However, what remains helps us know something about the ways of living and activities of the ladies in the feudal time. 

Present-day Dien Tho Palace consists of Tho Chi Gate, Dien Tho Principal Palace, Ta Truong Du, Tinh Minh Pavilion and the front and back screens.

Decorative custard apple (the theme of eight precious fruits)

In terms of aesthetics, Dien Tho Palace is of great value, thanks to, for the most part, its decoration which makes the royal architecture diverse, lively, majestic and colorful. 

Many decorative techniques were applied with a variety of materials such as wood, pottery and porcelain, coloring matter and cement. Wood is the main material in Dien Tho Principal Palace. On the wooden panels and trusses are engravings which evoke the feeling of being close to nature and the orient tradition. Pottery and porcelain, which look even more colorful in the sun, are therefore appropriate for the exterior. 

At the complex of Dien Tho, pottery and porcelain mosaics can be found everywhere, on the gate, the screens and the exterior of Dien Tho Principal Palace, Tinh Minh Pavilion and Ta Truong Du. Pottery and porcelain are hard materials which requires artisans to be skillful and to work with accuracy. 

Plaster and color matter were also employed in decoration. Compared with wood and pottery and porcelain, plaster was new material at that time. However, since it was cheap and durable, it was used to make rounded figures and embossments, which could stand all types of weather.

Coloring matter mixed with adhesive was used by artisans to paint the real life with the brush on flat surfaces and embossments. However, though having the strength of being corrected easily, coloring matter fades and degrades quickly in harsh weather conditions.

Decorative lotuses at Dien Tho Principal Palace

In terms of decorative content, themes are diverse and manifold such as Tu linh (Four supernatural animals), Tu quy (Four seasons), Bat buu (Eight precious objects) and Bat qua (Eight precious fruits). In addition, there are also images of good luck such as bats and fish. These themes are orient in character, showing the desire for a dynasty in peace and of prosperity or for many children, praising the beauty of nature. Studying the themes and the decorative patterns, we can see that artisans in the past did not use colors at random, but with care. The two basic principles were contrastive and main-supplemental.

Take the decoration on panels in the theme of eight precious objects or eight precious fruits for instance, the background color is always in contrast to the main images, which is very visually effective. With this main-supplemental principle, overall, the dominant color in Dien Tho Palace is gray.

To Hue people, warm colors represent strength and masculinity while gray symbolizes femininity which is deep, gentle and modest. Phoenixes, therefore, whether on murals or pottery and porcelain mosaics, are featured dominantly in blue; warm colors are just to highlight.

Two Phoenixes paying homage to the sun at Dien Tho Principal Palace

Many techniques have been used to feature sacred animals or decorative themes such as the stylized method, the realistic style, etc. The stylized method is to depict animals by selecting and highlighting the most typical details, giving them new images rich in decoration but still keeping their basic characteristics. Images of dragons, unicorns, phoenixes, or turtles in Dien Tho Palace are some examples. 

In contrast to the stylized method is the realistic style. It is to depict things accurately as they are. It can be seen clearly in such themes as Four-Precious-Objects or Four-Seasons with animals such as cocks, birds, deer, etc. In another style, the subjects are shaped as squares, rectangles or triangles, making them look brief and concise. 

The decorative art at Dien Tho Palace greatly contributes to enhancing the value of the royal architecture in Hue. It gives the royal architectural complex a colorful and exquisite beauty not only in form but also its significance, proving the talent and the desire of our ancestry. 

Story and photos: PHAN THI HONG HA