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02/05/2018 - 08:03

Hue mosaic art

In the 17th century, the Nguyen Lords enlarged the territory to the south, forming the cultural center of Phu Xuan-Thuan Hoa, bringing with them the career of clam shell inlay.

Typical pottery and colored glass mosaics on some constructions in the complex of monuments in Hue ancient capital. Photo: Bao Minh

Not until Khai Dinh's times did the art of pottery and colored glass mosaic thrive. This kind of decoration can be found on such constructions as An Dinh Palace, Hien Nhon Gate, Chuong Duc Gate, Thai Binh Pavilion, Kien Trung Palace, etc. the most typical and unique of which is Khai Dinh Tomb.

Legends

According to the researcher Nguyen Dinh Son, the art of mother-of-pearl inlay appeared in the northern plain more than 1,000 years ago. The famous artisans regarded as fathers of the typical stages were Dinh Huu Hung (9th-11th centuries), Truong Cong Thanh (12th-13th centuries), Nguyen Kim, Vu Van Kim (17th-18th centuries).

As recorded, clam shell inlay thrived in about the 11th century. Truong Cong Thanh, a general in the Ly Dynasty, was known as the founding father of the career. On his later days of his life, he would travel a lot. Once he happened to find shiny beautiful clam shells at a spring. He brought them home and connected them into patterns. Gradually he taught the skill to other people in the area.

In the 17th century, the Nguyen Lords enlarged the territory to the south, forming the cultural center of Phu Xuan-Thuan Hoa, bringing with them the career of clam shell inlay. Le Quy Don wrote in his book Phu bien Tap luc "In Thuan Hoa, mother-of-pearl is inlaid on furniture, boxes, sword handles, etc."

Blue pottery mosaic in the theme of Dragon Horse in Hue. Photo: Ho Hoang Thao

Mother-of-pearl inlay in Vietnam had developed to a sophisticated level before the Europeans arrived in Vietnam. In 1868, after occupying the South, the governor De La Grandière asked the imperial court in Hue to send two skilled artisans to Saigon to pass on the skills. In 1877, mother-of-pearl inlaid objects were sent to a fair in France.

In the 19th century, the Nguyen Kings selected the best arts of Vietnam to build the Imperial Capital of Hue. The inlay art thus developed and became much more sophisticated. One of the two classic mother-of-pearl inlaid works are the portrait of King Bao Dai and Queen Nam Phuong on wood. On the background is the image of cai khanh, a musical instrument. It was the present to the king from Mr. Tran Ba Dong on behalf of people in Ngo Village (Chuyen My, Ha Dong). The other was the portrait of Dien Loc Quan Cong made by Pham Van Khue in Ha Nam.

At the time, mandarins often ordered sophisticated mother-of-pearl inlaid objects as presents for the royal family on special occasions. Palaces, tombs, pagodas are preserving many decorative mother-in-pearl inlaid masterpieces passed through generations. 

Although villages specializing in mother-of-pearl inlay have not formed as they did in the North, Hue, as the imperial capital of the country, summoned the best artisans to the capital to live and pass their skills. Hue young people therefore took up secrets of the career. Their descendants still live now in Dia Linh, Bao Vinh, Nam Pho, etc.

Image of Hue

The pottery mosaic first appeared in the 17th century. At first it was popular in the society and later became an art employed in palaces. Materials were broken pieces of old pottery, very scarce and hard to find. However Huong River was abundant in pottery because, as the imperial capital of the country, Hue welcomed many cargo ships.

It was that source of material that made the pottery mosaic art thrive, especially at royal tombs, temples, pagodas and worship places in the capital. It becomes an indispensable material in the imperial capital.

Le Quy Don described Phu Xuan in his book Phu bien Tap luc as follows: "There are great and colorful palaces and pavilions surrounded by outer and inner some-meter-thick walls on which are pottery mosaics of dragons, phoenixes, unicorns, tigers and flowers..."

This decorative art had been used in Minh Mang's and Thieu Tri's times. In Tu Duc's times, it became a decorative art. Later Kien Thai Vuong Tomb was widely decorated in the theme of Nhi thap Tu hieu with humans as characters.

The pottery and colored glass mosaic art reached its peak in Khai Dinh's times. It can be found on structures such as An Dinh Palace, Hien Nhon Gate, Chuong Duc Gate, Thai Binh Pavilion, Kien Trung Palace, etc.

Mother-of-pearl inlaid portrait of Queen Nam Phuong (in Tran Dinh Son's collection.) Photo: DT

The most typical work is the interior of Khai Dinh Tomb, especially the decoration inside Thien Dinh Palace with pottery and colored glass mosaics. Talented artisans used motifs such as Four Sacred Animals, Eight Objects of Worship, Sun and Moon, Twelve Year Animals, etc. 

Familiar animals and plants and modern objects such as clocks, lamps, magnifying glass, etc. can be found as decoratives. Pottery of different colors such as orange and emerald were imported from China and Japan. Besides there was a new material from France: colored glass.

Broken pottery and glass were rigid in nature. But talented artisans used them to create unlimited patterns that looked soft, exquisite and extremely lively. It has become an original art of Hue in particular and Vietnam in general.

By Ho Hoang Thao

 

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