Wood carving and painting is a profession with a long tradition in Vietnamese culture. In its long history of development, crimson and gilded objects with fine carvings, red paint, and sparkling gold, not only reflect the aesthetics and skills of craftsmen but also express historical values of Vietnamese culture.
The Vietnam National Museum of History is organising an exhibition showcasing more than 100 lacquered and gilded wooden artifacts, selected from its collection of woodworks that have been studied, collected and preserved for many years by the museum.
Crimson and gilded wooden treasures are not only historical stories, but also artworks expressing the aesthetic thought and talent of artisans, containing ideals from history, art, customs, religion and beliefs of Vietnamese people.
The exhibition aims to introduce the artifacts to the public and foreign visitors, so that they may learn about the meaning and role of the crimson and gilded wooden objects, as well as historical and cultural values, in Vietnamese life.
The objects date back to the Le and Nguyen Dynasties (from 17th to early 20th century), a period in which the development of lacquered and gilded wares flourished, and are rich in form and varied in design, with decorative patterns and various techniques of processing. They include devotional statues, ritual objects, decorations and daily objects.
Lacquer on wood first appeared in Vietnam during the Dong Son Culture (over 2,000 years ago). Excavations in ancient tombs have discovered sophisticated native lacquer carvings, proving that Vietnamese wood carving has a long tradition.
Crimson and gilded wooden craft consists of two stages of painting and varnishing. The crimson stage entails covering the object with a layer of red or black paint. The gilded stage entails the application of a very thin gold leaf on the surface of the object.
The craft is the last stage in the chain of many professions, including carpentry, painting and gold making, stone and metal craft and even construction.
Not only do the crafts require perseverance, lacquered and gilded wares also require skills from the craftsmen. Folk artisans, with their quintessence of craftsmanship, have created products of high value, serving different needs in religion, beliefs and daily life.
With fine carvings, red paint, sparkling gold, and richly decorated themes of noble meaning, crimson and gilded wooden furniture have been attached to the Royal Court or place of worship and have become sacred objects.
In addition, lacquered and gilded wares were also prevalent in social life. In important events, such as taking office, receiving ordinations or inaugurating new houses, well-off families or those with high status often hired skilled workers to make boards with noble sentences, letters, or screens to hang at their houses.
The artworks not only represent the concept of humanity and the aesthetic thought and talented hands of ancestors but also contain values of history, art, custom, religion and beliefs.
Through ups and downs in the nation’s history and culture, at one time the craft seemed to disappear but it has now been restored and developed in many areas across the nation, as in Hanoi and Hue. Nowadays, lacquered and gilded beauty can be easily seen in many monuments, temples, pagodas and ancient architecture.
The artworks and Vietnamese crimson and gilded craft are valuable cultural property. This is also a rich source for studying the history of art, religion, beliefs, ethnology and traditional handicraft villages of ancestors.
The exhibition will last until November 2017 at the Vietnam National Museum of History, No. 1 Trang Tien Street, Hanoi.