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Dong Ho Painting: The quintessence of Vietnamese traditional folk art

Dong Ho Painting: The quintessence of Vietnamese traditional folk art

Dong Ho Painting: The quintessence of Vietnamese traditional folk art

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     About Dong Ho Painting

    There are many different types of folk arts in Vietnam including Sinh village paintings, Kim Hoang village paintings, Nam Hoang village paintings and Hang Trong paintings. Like these art types, the unique art type of Dong Ho painting originated in a village called Dong Ho (Bac Ninh) in the 19th century. It was one of the products of Dong Ho woodblock prints created and developed by the villagers.

    dong ho painting


    In the past, Dong Ho painting was sold on Tet - Lunar New Year only. This was the occasion when the villagers tore down the old paintings and replaced them with new ones to wish for new year’s luck.

    The peak of Dong Ho painting was from the late 19th century to the 40s of the 20th century. At that time, if there were 20 families living in Dong Ho village, all 20 of them would have been printing paintings. They were busy in July and August every year, preparing the paintings so that they were ready to be sold on Lunar New Year Eve. 

    The Dong Ho woodblock prints are often used to illustrate the Vietnamese agricultural society in the old days like a farmer’s working scene or traditional customs of the Vietnamese.

    Some of the popular Dong Ho Painting include Boy sitting on a buffalo and playing flute a (Chan trau thoi sao), Corpulent pig with suckling piglets (Lon dan), Hen surrounded by chickens (Dan ga), Scene of catching coconuts (Co gai hung dua), Scene of jealousy (Canh danh ghen). 

    Dong Ho Painting techniques

    The value of Dong Ho painting has always been preserved carefully in Vietnamese history and literature. In many poems depicting the Tet atmosphere in Northern Vietnam, Dong Ho painting was described as an essential item for Tet in each family.

    Dong Ho painting


    This unique art is attractive not only because of the distinctive characteristics of lines and layout but also thanks to its colors and paper materials.  

    Dong Ho printing papers are called diep paper (giay diep) which is made from scallops shell. (Diep in Vietnamese means scallops.) Then it will be mixed with a substance made from rice flour or sticky rice. After, the craftsmen will brush this mixture (which has already turned into a thin paper) with a pine needle brush. 

    The colors of Dong Ho painting are all-natural, which are made from plants. It is the black of charcoal, green of rust or indigo leaf, yellow of flowers and red of wood. The painters often use these 4 basic colors only without mixing.


    dong ho painting


    To finish a painting, the craftsman must be very careful and meticulous. He needs to follow these steps: brush the rice mixture onto the paper, dry the paper until the rice mixture is not wet, sweep the scallops shell, dry the paper again.

    When printing colors into the paper, each color will be printed separately. If there are 5 colors, the craftsman will need to print 5 times. After printing, the paper needs to be dried again. Layers by layers, a finished painting will become so colorful and beautiful.

    Meanings of Dong Ho Painting 

    The meaning of colors used in Dong Ho painting depends on each different topic of the painting. To depict jealousy, red will be used to express the oppressive anger in the atmosphere. 

    dong ho painting
    Phu Quy Painting - Represents the desire of wishing a girl to be sweet and gentle in hope that she will be able to give birth to many children

    For festive scenes, especially of Tet theme, the craftsmen will choose yellow to illustrate the joyful and happy atmosphere. In addition, light pink background will be used in paintings of peaceful villages.

    There are 5 main themes of Dong Ho painting: Spirit, Good luck wishes, Mythical and historical figures, Folk allegories and popular stories, Social activities and commentaries.
    Dong Ho painting plays an important role in the spiritual life of many Vietnamese generations. But not only the locals, foreign tourists also find this type of art impressively interesting and attractive.

    Dong Ho painting depicts the rural life of Vietnam in the old days in such a truthful, vivid, and even... bold way. The traditional customs and daily lives of the Vietnamese were expressed through every brush and print of this folk art.

    Popular Dong Ho Painting

    Here are 5 popular paintings of Dong Ho folk art. 

    1. Corpulent pig with suckling piglets painting (Lợn đàn)


    lon dan dong ho


    This painting is often hung in many families during Tet. It is a wish for a prosperous and successful year with many properties and children. In Dong Ho folk art, the pig is the most beautiful animal that is a symbol of wealth and prosperity. The yin and yang symbol on its body represents growth and reproduction.

    2. Mice’s wedding painting (Đám cưới chuột)


    dam cuoi chuot paiting dong ho


    There are 2 parts of the painting. The above part depicts the scene of 4 mice bringing offerings to a cat so that he will not disturb the wedding. The below part is when 7 mice bring the mice bride to the groom’s place. The painting uses 4 basic colors including red, yellow, green, and black.

    The cat in the painting symbolizes the ruling class in the ancient society who often exploited and bullied villagers. On the other hand, the mice are a metaphor of honest and hard-working farmers. The painting mocks the injustice of feudalism in which farmers were always oppressed. 

    3. Peacock painting (Công múa)


    cong mua painting dong ho


    According to popular belief, the peacock is a symbol of true beauty and noble dignity. The old Vietnamese also believed that a painting of a peacock will help ward off evil spirits. 

    4. Eminence painting (Vinh hoa) 


    vinh hoa paiting dong ho


    In Chinese, a big rooster is called 大雞 (dà jī) which is synonymous with 大吉 (dà jí) - big luck. This painting of a little boy hugging a rooster is a wish of luck to the owner. 

    5. Prosperity and honor painting (Phú quý)


    phu quy painting dong ho


    The painting depicts a girl holding a duck. This represents the desire of wishing a girl to be sweet and gentle in hope that she will be able to give birth to many children. The lotus behind is a symbol of purity.

    07 Aug 2020

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