PATTERNS ON CHU ĐẬU CERAMICS YIELDED BY THE SEA OF THE CHÀM ISLAND

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Vietnamese ceramics have a long and lasting  history. Developed from the 14th to 17th century, Chu Đậu ceramics are renowned as an outstanding example of Vietnamese ceramics.

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According to research results, Chu Đậu ceramics date back to the 14th century and grew strongly in the 15th and 16th centuries. During this time, Chu Đậu ceramics became a trading product not only in Vietnam and Asia but also all over the world.

The discovery and excavation of a wreck in the sea near Cu Lao Cham island from 1997 to 2000 yielded large amounts of Chu Đậu ceramics items, clearly demonstrating the value of this ceramic style. Archaeologists had salvaged over 240,000 artifacts. Some were utilitarian items used daily by sailors on the boat but by far the majority of these were marketable household ceramics from Chu Đậu – Mỹ Xá ceramic kilns in Hải Dương Province, Vietnam. Chu Đậu ceramics were decorated with various kinds of glaze: turquoise glaze, brown glaze, three colors glaze and white glaze with cobalt blue patterns (blue and white ceramics).

In this post, I will introduce some of the patterns on the blue and white glazed ceramics among over 5000 artifacts displayed and conserved in the museums of Hội An.

LIST OF ARTIFACTS CLASSIFIED BY TYPE

No. Name of artifacts Unit Quantity No. Name of artifacts Unit Quantity
01 Make-up powder box Pcs 81 15 Jar lid Pcs 4
02 Barrel of powder box Pcs 1933 16 Lid of big jar Pcs 1
03 Lid of powder box Pcs 1799 17 Lid (indefinite shape) Pcs 6
04 Bowl Pcs 261 18 Pipa shape vase Pcs 18
05 Plate Pcs 49 19 Wine ewer Pcs 10
06 Jar Pcs 430 20 Wide-rim bowl Pcs 4
07 Small handle-less teacup Pcs 273 21 Bowl with lid Pcs 1
08 Lid (with knob) Pcs 42 22 Fish shape Pcs 1
09 Big jar Pcs 11 23 Horse shape Pcs 1
10 Big bowl Pcs 4 24 Bird shape Pcs 1
11 Tripod wine vessel Pcs 2 25 Wine Kendy Pcs 1
12 Vase Pcs 101 26 Gourd vessel Pcs 4
13 Crab-shaped box Pcs 2 27 Baluster Pcs 1
14 Turtle-shaped vase Pcs 10 28 Model vase Pcs 31
Total 5081

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1) Glazing techniques

There were two techniques to make blue and white glazed ceramics. Decorative cobalt blue could be applied under the glaze with high temperature firing. Alternately decorative cobalt blue could be applied over the glaze with low temperature firing.

2) Decorative Subjects

There are various kinds of decorative subjects

People

People were rarely depicted on Vietnamese ceramics prior to Chu Đậu ceramics, but on them we find a variety of images of people involved in a range of activities. These include the goodness, god, nobles, old fishermen, male rowers, behatted men, flute-playing cowherds and playing children.

Animals

Animals depicted included The Four Benevolent Animals and real animal images.

• The Four Benevolent Animals

– the Qilin, the lord of furred quadrupeds;

– the Dragon, lord of scaly animals;

– the Turtle, lord of shelled animals;

– the Phoenix , lord of birds.

• Real animals

Real animals depicted on Chu Đậu ceramics include lions, elephants, tigers, horses, buffaloes, cows, eagles, parrots, small birds, ducks and swans. Insects such as butterflies, dragonflies and grasshoppers were also depicted as were water creatures such as fish, shrimp and crabs.

Scenery

A variety locations and architectural structures were depicted including houses, pagodas, palaces, bridges and rivers.

Botany

A range of plants and trees decorated the  Chu Đậu  ceramics including lotuses, chrysanthemums, peonies, apricot trees, bamboo and other trees.

The Chu Đậu Artists put the Vietnamese nation’s soul into ceramics, presenting the daily life of people in the villages of North Vietnam. Therefore Chu Đậu ceramics were a purely Vietnamese product.

 3) Decorative techniques

The Chu Đậu artists used soft watercolor brushes for decorating underglaze and overglaze.

The two main styles of drawing in Chu Đậu ceramic are:

• Meticulous style (Gongbi)

This style used highly detailed brushstrokes that delimit details very precisely. It commonly depicted scenery in small-sized images. The Chu Đậu artists used cobalt blue because it stays bright and stable during high temperature firing.

• Freehand style

This style was a minimalist approach,using few brushstrokes, still allowing the subjects to come to life and be easily recognised.

No one can deny the fact that there was a relationship and interplay between pottery centers in the old times. The ceramics from North Korea, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam were affected by Chinese ceramics including aspects such as technique, subject and decorative  style. However we can not suppose that these ceramics are Chinese products. Vietnamese topics and decorative style were clearly presented in the collection of ceramics found at Chàm Island.

Chu Đậu ceramics belong to the heritage of Vietnamese ancient ceramics. We are expecting experts in the fields of science, archaeology  and other areas of expertise  who are interested in the value of Vietnamese ceramic to continue in-depth research in this field.

Hoi An Museum

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