|Ceramics for Sale My Ebay Auction History of Chinese Porcelain YinLiuZhai Collection Glossary Chronology Celadon Wares Chinese Ceramics in Museums Ming Blue and white Qingbai/Shufu/Ding/cizhou/Xing Wares Southeast Asian Ceramics Famous kilns Ceramics Shards Fujian Trade Ceramics Home Contact Me|
A survey of Vietnamese Ceramics
Vietnam has a long history of more than 2000 years of glazed ceramics production. The earliest wares were most likely those Han inspired wares with shapes imitating the bronze wares of the period. They are different from the Chinese early celadon wares (greenware) of the same period. The chinese early celadon are covered with green or yellowish glaze and has grayish paste. (For more on early Chinese celadon, please read this article: Shang to Western Han celadon). The Vietnamese version has a paste which is white and covered with a translucent cream white glaze. Many such wares were recovered from Han tombs (dated to 1st century) near Thanh Hoe.
Brown glaze inlaid Wares (Ly to Early Le period [11th -early 15th century])
The earliest most recognizable form of Vietnamese ceramics are those wares with brown glaze inlaid motif and a white glaze usually with tinge of green. They were produced since the Ly dynasty (AD 1009 - 1225) and continued to be produced till the early 15th Century. The origin of the technique and motif could be traced to the wares first created by the Cizhou potters of the Northern Song period. The decorative method is what is termed the sgraffito method. In the most common method, the ware is usually first covered with a layer of slip. Outline of the motif is incised and the slip outside the motif is scrapped off. The ware is than covered with a transparent glaze and fired. However, there are also some which involved first covering the ware with white slip, the motif is than incised and glazed. The area outside the motif is than scrapped off and the area covered with dark brown glaze and fired. Two examples from Henan Dang Yangyu and Inner Mongolia Chi Feng kilns are shown below. This later decorative technique is similar to those inlaid brown method of the Vietnamese wares. The main difference is that the Vietnamese version did not apply a layer of slip. (The late Roxanna Brown in her book "The Ceramics of South-East Asia- Their Dating and Identification" states that there were some examples with a white slip which could be detected under the glaze). (For more on Cizhou wares, please read this article.)
Vietnamese brown in-laid jar (12th-13th Century)
Notwithstanding the above, the Vietnamese brown-inlaid wares are still unique which over time developed a distinctive Vietnamese character in terms of type and style of motif and the shape of vessels. There are two type of brown-inlaid wares : the more common type is those which the motif is in brown glaze. A smaller number was done in the reverse with the area outside the motif in brown glaze instead. Floral scrolls was most popular during the Ly period. A small number was decorated with pea-cock like bird motif. A distinctive characteristic of the typical jar is the ring of high relief lotus petals on the shoulder. High relief lotus petals is also popular on Chinese vessels of the Northern Song period. It is very likely that Vietnamese potters drew inspiration from the Chinese vessels and applied it on Vietnamese vessels. The range of motifs became varied during the Tran period (A.D 1225 - 1440) with interesting motif such as fish, human figures engaging in hunting or fighting, village scene with houses and even ship and etc.
Jar with Human human motif (13th-14th century)
Jar with Human bird motif (13th-14th century)
Hugh Jar with human figures fighting (13th-14th Century)
Jar with floral motif (13th-14th Century)
The shape of this vase is contemporaneous of those in Chinese wares
Brown glaze inlaid wares spanned a long duration from 11th to 15 Century. Past literatures dealing with this category of wares are noted for their inconsistency in the dating or simply attributing a safe date range of 11th-14th century. So far, the most comprehensive book dealing with this subject is "Vietnamese Brown Pattern Ceramics" by Prof. Nguyen Dinh Chien and Pham Quoc Quan. This is an important and interesting book with useful information relating to more accurate dating of such wares. Some useful tips offered by Prof Nguyen include the following:
Evenly embossed lotus petals around shoulder or base of vessel. The petals are carefully trimmed and finely pointed at the end. This is feature of Ly period. If the petal is large, thick and flatten and with motif of lotus flower, human figure or embossed flowers, they are more likely dated to Tran period.
Unglaze pattern engraved on brown background and with embossed pattern are features of Tran to early Le period
Motif arranged within vertical or horizontal bands formed by brown glazed dots are features of Tran to early Le period
Iron brown painted motif under whitish glaze is feature from Late Tran to Early Le period
Iron-brown painted wares of the 14th/15th Century
The earliest excavated example of iron painted floral ware was a sherd found in Dazaifu in Kyushu Japan. It was initially attributed to A.D 1330 based on inscription on a marker found together with the sherd. John Guy who first revealed the findings has since made some clarifications. The reliability of the dating has to be interpreted with caution. The marker and the sherd were found in a pond. It is not clear when the marker landed in the pond. Hence, it might not be contemporaneous of the sherd. John Guy has suggested a revised date of of about A.D 1350 in his book on Vietnamese Ceramics.
Besides the date of introduction of iron-painted wares, the source of inspiration for the ware is also much discussed. Some scholars have suggested a cizhou related or Yuan blue and white wares origin. The most common iron brown painted motif has sytlised flower with leaves which is found in vessels such as bowls , plates and jarlets. They were exported in substantial quantity to country such as Philippines and Indonesia during the 14th and 15th century.
|A iron-painted jar with iron-painted motif. The Vietnamese ceramics experts are of the view that it was manufactured in Vietnam. The motif show much similarity to those from Haiking in Guangdong province of China. The possibility of Chinese origin is not far-fetched. Hence, the actual origin of the jar needs to be explored further.|
The source of the influence might be actually nearer than thought. Haikang kiln in the present day Lezhou in Guangdong produced Cizhou type wares since the Song period till Ming Hongwu period. Some of the Haikang products were also exported overseas. The above jar in the National Museum of Vietnamese History is most likely a product from the Haikang kiln.
If we compare the below Haikang iron painted Jar excavated from a Yuan grave which can be dated to A.D 1338, the similarity to the Vietnamese example is striking.
Haikang kilns in present day Lezhou were in operation since the Song Period. During the Southern Song period, foreign trade was actively promoted by the palace as tax on import and export was a lucrative source of revenue. Haikang with its proximity to the sea was known as an important port. So far, more than 50 kilns from the Song/Yuan period were discovered in Haikang. It appeared to indicate a possible substantial overseas demand for their products. A number of Haikang wares with iron painted motif were also excavated from ancient graves. The latest date was a jar from a Ming Hongwu period grave. There are also other kilns in the area such as Lian Jiang and those in Hainan Island that produced iron-painted wares. The ban on foreign trade initiated during the Ming Hongwu period must have adversely impacted the production of porcelain and led to cessation of their production.
The importance and the high regard for the quality of Haikang wares is obvious. More than 10 pieces in the Leizhou Museum were graded as category 1 cultural relics. Two found in Song graves are shown below. Note the similarity of the motif of the floral motif on the jar to the Yuan example mentioned earlier. Such style of depicting floral motif has existed since then. Hence, it is not impossible that the Vietnamese iron-brown painted wares may have been produced around A.D 1330 or even earlier. The possible role of Haikang potters in developing the Vietnamese blue and white wares is discussed under the blue and white section.
A kiln waste with stack of bowls decorated with iron-painted motif which previously belonged to the Clement Huet collection was said to have been recovered from Dai La near Hanoi. This indicates the possibility of kilns in that area which produced such wares. Clement Huet was a Belgium businessman who ran an import and export business in Vietnam. He acquired more than 5000 artifacts during his stay in Vietnam. He left Vietnam in A.D 1938. Musee Royaux d'Art et d'Historie in Brussels acquired more than 3000 pieces of his collection. 4 pieces of kiln waste were among the pieces.
Vietnamese white/Qingbai/brown/celadon wares of 12th/14th Century
Please continue from here.
Vietnamese blue and white and enamelled wares
Please continue from here.
Written by: NK Koh (25 Nov 2009)
Back to Homepage