Bat Trang Ceramics of the 14th-19th Centuries

by Steven K. Bailey, May 1, 1998 | Destinations: Vietnam / Hanoi

If you visit Hanoi the odds are good that you'll visit the National Museum of Vietnamese History in Hanoi and the nearby ceramics center of Bat Trang. These are common destinations for tourists and art historians alike. But if you don't get to Bat Trang or the National Museum, you can still read Bat Trang Ceramics of the 14th-19th Centuries (1995). This color art catalog displays 700 years of Bat Trang ceramics now displayed in the National Museum and other institutions throughout the country.

Under the leadership of Dr. Phan Huy Le (Director of the Center for Cooperation in Vietnamese Studies), a team of eminent art historians collected and cataloged a selection of ceramic art pieces from Bat Trang village that has been published as a glossy 11" x 8" hardcover edition. It contains 90 pages of color and black-and-white photographs of ceramic masterpieces found in various museum collections, as well as 25 pages of black-and-white pencil rubbings that reveal the finely wrought detail of these artistic treasures. Ninety pages of bilingual Vietnamese-English text describe the past and present history of Bat Trang, explain ceramic production techniques and list the different styles and types of ceramics created.

Vietnamese ceramics have a long history stretching back to the ancient Hoa Binh and Bac Son cultures. Bat Trang itself became known as a famous ceramic-producing village as far back as the 14th century. This village lies on the Red River close to Hanoi and became a ceramics center because of the rich local deposits of white clay. Although these deposits are now exhausted, Bat Trang remains a potters' village, with at least 570 families making ceramics today. For centuries Bat Trang ceramics have been exported to Japan, China, Southeast Asia, and Europe and still are today.

The astounding range of ceramics produced in Bat Trang over the centuries is well illustrated. They are loosely categorized as utilitarian ware (pots, jars, cups), religious items (incense burners, altar boxes, censers) and decorative objects (small sculptures and statues of buildings, animals and people). As an example of this variety, consider the pieces pictured on page 166. There is an elaborate altar box with a grey-white glaze; a bowl and tea tray with beautifully painted bamboo motifs and a blue-and-white glazed incense burner ornately decorated with snarling dragons that look ready to leap off of the page. These pieces date from the 19th century, although many in the book date to the 14th century.

The pieces contained in Bat Trang Ceramics come from a dozen different museums scattered down the length of the country. You can't see these pieces under one roof, but you can see them under one cover. Whether you're a browsing amateur art lover or a researching art historian, this catalog will give you a comprehensive overview of 700 years of Vietnamese ceramic masterpieces.