In the first part of our series of publications about Vietnamese ceramics, we’ve discussed the complete history of Vietnamese ceramics, followed by a second publication that offered a beginners guide to Vietnamese Ceramics and Pottery Villages. In this part 3 publication, we’ll go more in depth, and discuss art motifs you often find on Vietnamese ceramics.
What catches your eyes first when looking at a ceramic or pottery product? Is it the materials, designs, or decorative motifs? In Vietnam, ceramic decor motifs come in all kinds of shapes and lines. In this article, let us explain the traditional motifs of Vietnamese ceramics and pottery and their meaning.
Traditional Motifs on Vietnamese Ceramics
Traditional style decorative motifs often depict elements of nature, animals, or tell a story from Vietnamese folklore.
Vines or Floral Patterns
Basic shapes like triangles, circles, or stars are often seen on pottery products in the South. But a big preference for floral patterns is strong in ceramic villages throughout the country. At a glance, the motifs may appear simple. But once you pay attention to the details, you will see the way these motifs are combined elaborates the product as a whole.
Vietnamese consider bamboo to be a symbol of resilience against all storms. In Feng Shui art, bamboo also represents health and prosperity. Besides, bamboo has such inner strength that it remains green in the cold winter. This makes bamboo a symbol of longevity. From Bat Trang ceramics to Bau Truc pottery, you can easily see bamboo motifs on household items and decorative artworks.
If you ask someone in Vietnam what the national flower is, the answer is probably lotus. Many scholars regard this flower as the embodiment of perfection. Lotus rises from the mud, yet cannot be tainted by its humble birthplace. Every component of lotus is useful as food, medicine, or decor items. In Feng Shui belief, the lotus flower symbolizes purity, ridding people of all worries, calming the mind, and bringing happiness. It is no wonder why both northern and southern ceramics adore lotus flowers so much.
Four seasons is a recurring theme for both decorative and spiritual ceramics. The four seasons are usually illustrated by the season’s flora and fauna. Oftentimes, animals are also present.
You will find representative elements in each scene of the season. One kind of tree should pair with a corresponding flower and animal. For example, Spring has apricot blossoms and peacocks. But autumn has chrysanthemums and chicken.
Sometimes, you can only see plants that symbolize the season. In this case, Tung (Pine) – Cuc (chrysanthemum) – Truc (bamboo)- Mai (peach blossom) is a well-known depiction.
Similar to most motifs, the four seasons motifs aren’t there for sheer decoration. According to Feng Shui, having ceramics with this motif in the house is a way to wish for luck, health, longevity, and prosperity.
Folklore is an inseparable part of the life of Vietnamese. Therefore, bringing folklore to ceramics and pottery is how locals can honor and keep those stories alive.
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The Gods of Happiness, Wealth, and Longevity
The three gods Phuc (happiness) – Loc (wealth) – Tho (longevity) represent the three greatest blessings in one’s life. The first of the trio is Phuc. He is believed to bring good luck and a bountiful life with beautiful children. On the motif, you can see him with a child on the left. Loc, or the god of wealth, brings good fortune and prosperity. He typically stands in the middle of the trio and holds a jade scepter. And finally, Tho, or the god of longevity, is said to bless people with a long-lived, disease-free life. He is the one standing to the right, holding a branch of the immortal peach blossom tree.
The Four Holy Creatures
The four holy creatures, as known as Long (dragon) – Lan (Unicorn) – Quy (Turtle) – Phung (Phoenix), are something that is almost only for big big decorative items. They are created from the four fundamental elements: water, fire, earth, and wind.
Ceramic products carved with the image of the four holy creatures have high value in quality and often have a spiritual impact.
Carp Looking at the Moon
Carp looking at the moon is one of the classic scenes of Vietnamese folk art. As the old saying goes, the carp stands for the spirit of “crossing the stream and becoming a dragon”. At the core, it is an expression of putting in great effort to make a name for oneself in life.
Moreover, the moon here is full – a symbol of fullness and completion. Thus, ceramic products painted with carp looking at the moon are believed to bring luck and success to the family.
A Fairy Tale Scene with Cranes, Lotus, and Pine
Cranes are known to many as elegant animals. In ancient belief, cranes are a symbol of luck, longevity, and chivalry.
Pine is a tree with strong vitality. It is often seen majestically growing on the ledge reaching forward like a heroic spirit.
The lotus flower in Feng Shui belief symbolizes purity and perfection for its beauty against the muddy surrounding.
Depicting cranes and pine tell the story of determination and courage against hardship. On the other hand, having cranes and lotus as motifs illustrates the harmony of nature and the peacefulness of beings. Furthermore, the crane and lotus duo indicates people with strong will and noble qualities.