CULTURE and ARTS of the time – 15th century

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Prof. TAN, HA VAN

    With social stability in the 15th century, culture and arts were able to develop. The Lam Son1 insurrection and the subsequent liberation of the country inspired the literary creation of Nguyen Trai‘s2 Binh Ngo Dai Cao (Proclamation on the Defeat of the Ming). This followed by Ly Ter Tan‘s3 Xuong Giang Phu (Ode  to the Xuong River – the scene of a big battle against the Ming); Nguyen Mong Tuan’s4 Lam Son Giai Khi Phu (Ode to the Salutary Air of Mount Lam Son) and Nghia Ky Phu (Ode to the Banner of Justice), as well as many other works. King Le Thanh Tong5 himself picked up the same theme in his Phu Lam Son.

  Le Thanh Tong5, king-cum-poet, contributed much to cultural development. He founded Tao Dan6, a literary clan. The 28 members were likened to 28 stars in the sky, and were credited which the creation of many poetry collections. Literature developed in Vietnamese script called nom7, based on Chinese ideograms. The script was used in many major literary works including the Quoc Am Thi Tap (Collection of Poems in the National Language) by Nguyen Trai 7 and Hong Duc Quoc Am Thi Tap, a collection of more than three hundred poems.

   Confucianism held a strong influence, both in literature and the arts. Throughout the century, only a few Buddhist temples and stupas were built, but efforts were concentrated set up in Thang Long8 in honour of Confucius, was rebuilt on a much larger scale and similar shrines were erected in many other parts of the country.

     The kings of the Le dynasty9 were all keen to add new constructions to the national capital. The palaces of Kinh Thien10, Can Chinh11 and Van Tho12 were ordered by Le Loi13 in 1428. These were later joined by Hoi Anh14, Can Dure15, Tucmg Quang16, Kim Loan17, Thuy Ngoc18 and other sumptuous buildings.

    In the southern part of the city big platforms were raised. Among them Nam Giao19 and Xa Tac20, where religious rites were regularly performed in honour of heaven, earth. Most of the products of 15th century sculpture that remain today are stone burial statues of people and animals. They are generally small, roughly hewn and lacking the graceful, life-like quality that characterizes sculptures under the Ly and the Tran dynasties. Some sculptural works, like flights of stone steps adorned with dragons, took on a monumental character as soon as they were built. Le dragons, like the ones at Kinh Thien (Court Room) in Ha Noi citadel, are completely different from those carved under the Ly and the Tran19. They have protruding eyes, forked horns and sharp dorsal fins, and are fixed in a more threatening posture, with one foreleg raised to hold the beard. Generally speaking, Le dragons20 look ceremonial and therefore, rigid.

   Ceramics, on the other hand, flourished under the Le dynasty. Of particular importance was the introduction of blue glaze with which a wide range of decorative motifs – clouds, dragons, phoenixes, chrysanthemums, shrimps, crabs, lotuses and lemon flowers – were drawn in different shades on a white background. The characteristic bold strokes of the bush gave the final result a higher artistic quality.

The 15,h century marked a sharp division in performaning arts. In the court, it was governed by strict rules and became ritualistic and stereotypical.

   The influence of the Ming21 was felt strongly in the court. Meanwhile, popular entertainment – tuong (classical opera), cheo (popular opera) and folk music continued to captivate commoners.

    The court made a deliberate attempt to curb popular entertainment. King Le Thai Tong5 in 1437 banned chco from Thai Mieu22, the temple dedicated to the cult of his ancestors. King Le Nhan Tong23, when he paid a visit to Lam Kinh in 1448, was greeted by a band of young men and women who performed a dance called Rt Ren24 in which they mimicked picking flowers and weaving them into wreaths. During part of the dance the band sometimes crossed their legs and were thus accused of vulgarity by the king’s attendants.

   Despite all the rules and regulations, popular forms of entertainment developed unabated.

NOTES:
Lam Son … updating …

BAN TU THU
5. 2020

NOTE:
◊  Source: The Making of Vietnam. Ha Van Tan. thegioipublishers.vn, 2018. Image; wikimapia.org.
◊  All citations and featured sepia image has been set by BAN TU THU – thanhdiavietnamhoc.com.

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