Fine art in Vietnam has undergone a series of rises and falls over the past two millennia, changing significantly in style and persuasion: bright copper engravings marked the early Dong Son period, and expressive ceramics flourished under the Ly dynasty, while more strong, imposing styles were a sign of the Tran dynasty. The creative works of both common and imperial artists were consistently under the influence of religious and political elements in society. Throughout Vietnam’s long history, exquisite talent came and went, often standing out from the crowd, leaving behind relics of the past that surprise us even today for their skill and vision.
A carving work
One striking period in Vietnam's artistic past occurred during the Mac dynasty, roughly beginning when Mac Dang Dung overthrew the Le dynasty in 1527. Significant changes in economy, politics, and general society came to being under the Mac dynasty, despite its brief existence. To gain approval, many prohibitions were abandoned, allowing a more liberal society to blossom. The sudden acceptance of more open thought stimulated a boom in artistic work. As a result, the period witnessed a major and rapid development in popular fine arts.In traditional motifs, the dragon was the most common sacred object. As a symbol of the king, it was consistently placed in a central position and was associated with supreme power. But this icon varied during the Mac dynasty, where the architecture of pagodas and communal houses were carved with dragons that looked not so solemn as before. The dragons carved on the pillars of Tay Dang communal house (Ha Tay) and on the gates of the Teacher Pagoda had short and stout bodies, and snouts as small as that of actual living animals. The dragons carved in Ngo Pagoda (Ba Vi) and Boi Khe Pagoda (Ha Tay) had short faces, big eyes, and open mouths, belching out whirling clouds and flame.
An artist is making a wood carving work
These dragons hardly conformed to the strict rules of previous periods that demanded exactly 5 claws and were used only to represent kings. They began to appear in households and offerings, from pottery to woodwork. In Tay Dang communal house, such creative variations as fish-bodied dragons or dragons with fish tails and paddle-shaped legs could also be found. Such innovation would have been unacceptable in previous periods.
Art was imbued with fresh creative spirit in places like Ha Bac as well. In pagodas and communal houses, out of the dark appeared vivid images of deer, horses, and elephants – postures popular and mischievous. The deer in Tho Ha or Lo Hanh communal houses were moving forward with their heads turned back. The deer on the bricks of the Hundred Room Pagoda had long horns.