By the end of the 14th century, the brown glazed and celadon glazed ceramic lost the market and replaced by the new material and art style of the cobalt blue pattern ceramic. It was said that the cobalt blue pattern ceramic was the third landmark in the development process of the Vietnamese ancient ceramic considering the aspects of the technique and decorative style, preceded by the famous ones, the celadon and the brown ceramic.
The initial policies of the Early Le dynasty after the liberation against the Ming had promoted the economy and production, in particular the industry and commerce. The handicraft corporation gathered a number of same craftsmen and specialized at several certain items that served the daily demand of the high class and normal people.
According to the Vietnam's archaeological studies and through some collections of objects that are preserved in the foreign museums, we know that the cobalt blue pattern ceramic was not limited to serve the domestic demand. In this period, tens of thousand of ceramics had been exported to islands as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines and they can be found in the museums in the world as UK, France, Turkey, China and Japan... In 1997, through a discovery and excavation of the Cu Lao Cham shipwreck, they had secured over 240.000 ceramic wares, mainly dated back the Early Le dynasty (15th century) and made in Hai Duong and Thang Long as north of Vietnam. So, it proved a fact that this time was the prosperous days of the Vietnamese ceramic.
The cobalt blue pattern ceramic is a kind of ceramic with the cobalt blue glaze. The glaze is made of pure clay and enameled by the oxide cobalt and heated at 13000C. The patterns were painted by feather pen and cobalt ink. It was different from the technique to make the brown pattern ceramic. For the brown ceramic making, they carved the pattern on the ware then painting on that pattern. While in this case, the craftsman had to be a real artist. There were three ways to paint the cobalt pattern:
- Before glazed: Painting the patterns before glazing
- Glazed- painting the patterns - glazed again
- Glazed then decorating
The 1st and 2nd ways made the best products. Later, they combined the cobalt with the brown glaze and polychrome enamel. Some products for export were inlaid with gold.
Type of cobalt blue pattern ceramic was various and served for domestic and export. They included house wares such as bowl, plate, pot, cup, vase, jar..., special products such as teapot in shape of a bird, phoenix ewer, yuhuchun, kendy, wine bottle, box, incense burner, lamp stand and statue.
At this time, the handicraft villages had to be professionalized. The role of the craftsmen was praised, for example, the name of the craftsman was inscribed on the product. The most noteworthy one is a cobalt blue pattern jar, which is being preserved and exhibited in Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, Turkey. The jar is blue glazed and has an inscription writing the name of the craftswoman or Bui Thi Hy, made in the 8th year of Dai Hoa, Le Nhan Tong King’s empire, 1450. This jar was considered to be a reference to study the Vietnamese ceramic.
Bat Trang (Hanoi) and Nam Sach (Haiduong) were home for the cobalt blue pattern ceramic of the Le dynasty. The Bat Trang ceramic was born earlier than the Nam Sach and still developing at the moment. While the Nam Sach ceramic was made only in Le period but was signified on the Vietnam's sea trading map.
At present, the cobalt blue pattern ceramic is still being developed across the country. Obviously, it is inherited from Le ceramic but it has been renovated to a new and modern ceramic style.
The VNMH Museum is now preserving a collection of the cobalt blue pattern ceramic, and here are some examples:
Spheric basin, dragon decoration
Lidded urn, pattern of a lady taking bath
Cobalt blue pattern ceramic plate
Big plate, decoration of lotus and lion
Big plate, decoration of bird
Teapot, in a shape of two heads of phoenix
Wine bottle, decoration of bird and lotus
Wine bottle, scenic pattern
Jar, swan pattern (National Treasure)
Two parts basin
Yuhuchun polychrome enemel and gold inlaid
Man servant officer statue
Cup in a shape of parrot holding the peach, cobalt blue pattern and polychrome enamel
Dinh Phuong Cham
EN: Tran Trang