Lacquer Painting Vietnam

Lacquer in Vietnam

More than 2000 years ago, during the period of the Dong Son culture, the Vietnamese already knew how to process raw lacquer to produce commodities for every-day use. Increasingly though, many household and cult objects were decorated with pictures and then coated with lacquer. They were found in ancient tombs discovered in northern Vietnam. As far back as the Ly dynasty (11th century) or even earlier, lacquer was widely used in the ornamentation of palaces, communal halls, temples, pagodas and shrines.

One of the most fascinating examples of using lacquer are lacquered objects recently discovered in ship wrecks belonging to the Nguyen Lords in southern Vietnam; they were found intact despite the fact that they had been laying in salt water for more than 100 years.

The recipes of lacquer and the production know how were always kept secret and handed down within the clans of artisans, who received high recognition in society and with the noblemen and kings. With the increasing sophistication of the craft it was only a next logical step to specialize into specific aspects of lacquerware production, either in terms of the different steps of production or the specific lacquer application.

In turn, this specializations lead to the foundation of guilds. One guild would excel in processing lacquer while others distinguished themselves in gilding or in making vermilion powder. They gathered, lived together, and produced lacquer ware in a special ward along a well-known street named after this craft. Today, in Hanoi and some neighbouring areas, many streets, quarters and villages remain, still preserving this traditional lacquer production.

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