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All the colours of chrome

No 3, Vol.10 , September  -  October 2015


Polychrome Bat Trang ceramics in the 19th century. Photos provided by Nguyen Dinh Chien

Vietnam Heritage has been publishing a series based on ‘2,000 Years of Vietnamese Ceramics’ by Nguyen Dinh Chien and Pham Quoc Quan, published by Vietnam National Museum of History, Hanoi, 2005.
This month the topic is Polychrome ceramics.

Polychrome Bat Trang ceramics in the 19th century. Photos provided by Nguyen Dinh Chien

In China, polychrome ceramics made their appearance in the Tang dynasty and flourished during the Ming and Qing dynasties. They include three types: a) wares low-fired with three colours (Tang period); b) wares high-fired with three or five colours (the Ming and Ching periods); and c) polychrome wares combining low-fired overglaze painting with high-fired underglaze painting.

Polychrome Bat Trang ceramics in the 19th century. Photos provided by Nguyen Dinh Chien

In Vietnam, this group was developed as late as the early fifteenth century. They also have three types: a) pieces combining a high-fired underglaze blue with four low-fired overglaze enamels; b) pieces highly fired with three colours; and c) polychrome pieces highly fired with underglaze blue and over-glaze enamels.

Polychrome Bat Trang ceramics in the 19th century. Photos provided by Nguyen Dinh Chien

Typical examples for the first type come from the collection of polychromes found on the Cu Lao Cham shipwreck. These include high-stem bowls and dishes painted in underglaze blue and overglaze green, red, brown, yellow enamels. But many examples have only three to four colours, due to the absence of the blue. Glazes on several pieces have also eroded because of low firing or bad preservation conditions. This type existed from the early fifteenth century to the first half of the sixteenth century.

Polychromes found on the Cu Lao Cham shipwreck in the 15th century
Photos provided by Nguyen Dinh Chien

Typical examples for the second type include many incense burners, lamp stands and smoking bowls with designs in three glazes; copper oxide green, brownish-red and yellow. These colours are mixed harmoniously, and are thus very eye-catching. They are specifically impressive and effective for ritual objects, and are often placed in half-lit rooms of pagodas and temples. This explains why this type was made chiefly under the Mac dynasty, when many Mac princes and princesses donated a large amount of money for constructing and renovating religious buildings.

Polychromes found on the Cu Lao Cham shipwreck in the 15th century
Photos provided by Nguyen Dinh Chien

Typical examples for the third type are the crackled white flower vases and wine bottles that have motifs moulded and painted in three colours; cobalt blue, yellow and brownish-red. These pieces were surely produced at Bat Trang kilns in the nineteenth century.

Polychromes found on the Cu Lao Cham shipwreck in the 15th century
Photos provided by Nguyen Dinh Chien

Recently, some rare shards of polychrome ceramics have been found along with those of blue and whites at Chu Dau kiln site.
However, the kiln source for some fifteenth and sixteenth century polychrome pieces are still unknown.n

Vietnam National
Museum of History
1 Trang Tien St, Hanoi
216 Tran Quang Khai St, Hanoi
Tel: (04) 3824-1384
wwww.baotanglichsu.vn
Open: 8 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.
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