Ancient Vietnamese lamps on display suggest distinct tradition

TN News

Email Print

A bronze lamp in the shape of a kneeling person is a main attraction at an exhibition in Hanoi due to debates concerning its origin and meaning

The Vietnam National Museum of History is exhibiting ancient lamps which date back two thousand years and illuminate aspects of the country's history and culture, especially its fine arts.

"Vietnamese old lamps" divides the more than 50 artifacts into three historical periods: from 400 BC to 300 AD; the period of Chinese influence from 100-900 AD; and Vietnam's feudal era, from 1000-1800 AD, The Thao & Van Hoa (Sports & Culture) reported.

Many experts have been drawn to one of the exhibition's oldest artifacts, a bronze lamp from Vietnam's Dong Son prehistoric Bronze Age (2,000 BC-200 AD).

The lamp takes the shape of a kneeling person and has been named a national treasure for the diversity of historical and cultural values it suggests.

It was found in the northern province of Thanh Hoa in 1935 and is estimated to be between 2,000 to 2,500 years-old. 

Archeologists said three S-shaped structures which are attached to the figure's shoulders and backs were used to hold three oil lamps.

The statue wears a headscarf and its legs have four little figures kneeling and are believed to be playing musical instruments.

The French School of the Far East, which found the statue, said it represents various cultural traits.

Its spiral hair reveals Indian influence, the headscarf is a sign of prosperity according to Mediterranean culture, but the face's wide-open eyes, thin lips and mustache conjure images of Pakistani tribes, the school said.

But other experts said the statue is a clear product of Vietnamese-Chinese acculturation, basing their assessment on the kneeling post as a stylized design portraying prisoner turned lamp-carrying servant.

Nguyen Van Cuong, director of the museum, said the lamp's recognition as a national treasure was the exhibition's main inspiration.

Pham Quoc Quan, former director of the museum, said, "The lamp is attractive as there are different theories regarding its origins and meanings."

Quan himself believes the lamp has no foreign influence and that it is all about the Vietnamese belief during the Dong Son age concerning eternal life, then strongly linked with light, moon and sun.

"The lamp must have been put inside a tomb to guide the dead to the other world," he said.

Other Dong Son lamps include those shaped like deer or elephants.

Many lamps at the exhibition are ceramics from the Ly and Tran Dynasties (1009-1400), the heyday of Vietnamese ceramics.

Nguyen Dinh Chien, deputy director of the museum, said the ceramics lamps carry a little Chinese influence but argued they are "distinctively Vietnamese" as similar designs are not found in any other countries.

Many of ceramic lamps are engraved with the names of the makers some of whom were women and the customers who bought them, including a prince and a princess.

Chien, who has been studying inscriptions on Vietnamese ceramics for decades, called the name carvings "brave" and that carving women's names on pieces of art was simply not done in China and Japan at the time.

He said the inscriptions revealed more than 30 artisans and customers. Many of the lamps were made by a man named Do Phu, as well as his wife, son and daughter.

The exhibition will run from February through May at the museum, located at No.1 Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem District.

Like us on Facebook and scroll down to share your comment

More Arts & Culture News