Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) began with the reign of king Gia Long, who was the dynasty’s founder, and ended with the reign of king Bao Dai who was the last monarch time of Vietnam. Prior to the Nguyen dynasty, were the nine Nguyen Lords, who deserve credit for extending the territory southwards.
Nguyen Dynasty could be divided into two stages:
Independence (1802 - 1883)
Protectorate of French (1883 - 1945)
At the Vietnam National Museum of History, we preserve a large amount of objects that are Vietnamese traditional handicrafts, for example: collection of bronze bells, bronze wares; collection of carved wood, collection of bronze coins, collection of royal confirmation and order...and especially, a collection of worshipping objects made of crimsoned and gilded wood. This collection has 79 objects dating back to Nguyen dynasty (19th - 20th century).
Exhibition space of collection of crimsoned and gilded wood
A set of horizontal board and antithetical couplet
Worship- throne, ancestral tablet
The worshipping collection of objects hold by VNMH is very various regarding styles and decorated with various subjects such as fauna and flora and divine creatures. Some objects were made in the shape of vegetation such as lotus leaf and apricot branch. Some were Western style such as grapes - squirrels and geometrical designs.
Dragon and cloud
Fish turns dragon
Flower and bird
Two dragons open mouths toward a ball (a couple of dragons facing the moon)
Animals include dragon, kylin, phoenix, tortoise, bat, fish...
Dragon is the highest ranking animal in four sacred animals. It is a legendary creature, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits. Scholars said it had thirty-six parts taken from thirty-six animals or the totem of Chinese ancient people.
Dragon represents for Yang, or motion, development and prosperity. In our collection, dragon can be found in various designs, such as:
- "Four sacred animals": including 4 animals: dragon, kylin, tortoise, phoenix.
- "Dragon hides in cloud": a symbol for luck and enjoyment.
- "Dragon keeps character Tho (longevity) in its mouth"
- "Two dragons facing the sun": symbolizing the "three yang" or everything is going smoothly.
- "Two dragons facing the chrysanthemum flower" or "Two dragons facing the character Tho (longevity)"
In our collection, the image of dragon can be found as eating another dragon's tail (on the edge or the border of the scroll tablet or horizontal board). Dragon flies around the arm and base of the worship throne, or lying at the centre of the worship objects, or on the border of the altar, worship- throne...but only face and two legs of the dragon can be seen. Besides, dragon was transformed from flowers such as apricot, chrysanthemum, bamboo...
Kylin is one in the four divine creatures. The male is Ky and the female is Lin. Kylin was regarded as the empire of the animals. It had a special description in the fine arts in Nguyen dynasty such as: deer's leg, horse's hoof, cow's tail. The kylin symbolized for a prominent throne in politics and the long lasting of the building in the construction.
In our collection, kylin was a dragon and horse-like with such characteristics: dragon's head, thick and long mane, deer’s antlers, lion's nose and snake's neck. Especially, it had the body of the horse, carp's scale, horse's tail. The kylin was described in details especially in the border of the altar.
Turtle: symbolizing for the longevity and stability. The descriptions such as the turle carrying the stele, or carrying the crane... can be encountered.
The turtle was not popular in this collection but sometimes can be found as hiding under a lotus's leaf, stylized turtle from flower and vegetation.
Phoenix: a bird symbolizing for luck and piece, in the other hand, it presents for wealthy and beauty of the women, or the luxury of the queen. That's why it was used for the queen while the dragon was used to refer to the king.
In this collection, the phoenix was described as:
- A couple of phoenix facing the sun.
- Phoenix flying and keeping in its mouth a band of silk that tying a book and brush. This design was rather popular in Nguyen collection.
- Phoenix facing chrysanthemum flower.
(to be continued)
EN: Tran Trang