|Bronze casting is one of the traditional longstanding and famous craft in Vietnam. Long ago the best bronze casters of Vietnam were grouped together into the city ward of Phuong Duc. Commonly referred to as the Cast Ward, Phuong Duc consist of five hamlets: Giang Dinh, Giang Tien, Kinh Nhon, Bon Bo and Truong Dong. It can be said that traditional bronze casting in Hue appeared since Nguyen Hoang Lords came to the South again (1600). Planning of setting himself up in business for a long time, Nguyen Lords gathered excellent North artisans to the South with him in order to produce weapons and daily utensils.
Nguyen Van Dao-an ancestor and his father endowed down their detailed knowledge of this historically important craft to their descendants and local people. Passing through twelfth generations, The Nguyen has been nominated a lot of important positions in court affairs. They have historically contributed to the Imperial city’s bronze masterpieces like the Dai Hong Mon at the Thien Mu Pagoda, and the famous Nine Cannons of hue in front of the Hue City Royal Citadel. These products is not only famous in Hue but also in neighbouring province such as Quang Tri, Quang Nam-Da Nang, Binh Dinh, Nha Trang, Da Lat, Sai Gon…even the North. Lots of products have been exported to Lao, Hong Kong, Dai Loan and American, Canada, France…
After ancestor-Nguyen Van Dao died in 1680, his grave was buried at Vinh An hamlet and his wife was buried with him. To express gratefulness to this founder, his descendants built a temple to mark a period of four hundreds when bronze casting has been resided and developed there.
Bronze Casting, Flourishing In The Imperial City Of Hue
0n their first visit to the imperial city of Hue, visitors are often surprised at seeing huge ancient bronze casting items. They include the cauldron in the front yard of Can Chanh Palace, a set of nine urns at Hien Lâm Palace, the arc girders on Trung Dao bridge that links Thai Hoa Palace’s yard to Ngo Mon gate, the nine statues of Genies standing inside Quang Duc and The Nhan gates,
the half-length portrait of the patriotic Phan Boi Chau located on the top of Ben Ngu hill, just to name a few. Except for the bust of Phan Boi Chau all other tems were cast from the early 18th to the early 19th centuries.
Those who understand the history of Vietnamese handicrafts wonder how the local craftsmen in the old time, with rudimentary techniques, could cast such huge items in bronze weighing thousands of kilograms, and how those items could withstand the harsh weather over several centuries, without showing any cracks.
Meanwhile, others who specialize in fine arts pay more attention to the designs of leaves, flowers, birds, ani- and round points engraved on the cauldrons or bas-relieves on the nine urns. The designs remind them of similar ones on the ancient bronze pots as well as the similarity between Vietnamese and Western fine arts. They are similar to designs of climb flowers and other stylized flowers and fruits on the bronze guns made in Holland and Portugal, which are now preserved at Hue Antiques Museum. It can be said that the 162 bas-relieves carved on the nine urns; are consid- the first showpieces describing the beautiful land of Vietnam in the early 19th century.
Experts on sound research have said that its’ difficult to cast caul-drons, guns and urns with engraved bas-relieves, but it’s more difficult to make these items produce nice sounds. At night, amid the tranquil atmosphere, listening to the bell ring- from Thien Mu Tower, everyone is impressed and admires the talent of the bronze casting artisans of Hue, who produced such wonderful works. Their handicraft expertise has raised a lot of discussion and study from the French time (1882-1945) to the year of 1975 (when southern Vietnam was completely liberated). Since Hue was recognized as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1993, the Toyota Foundation of Japan and UNESCO have paid great attention to the bronze casting in Hue
After building his headquarters in Kim Long in 1635, Lord Nguyen Phuc Lan (or Lord Thuong) ordered the establishment of barracks on the southern bank of the Huong (Perfume) River, opposite to his headquarters, to cast weapons and royal utensils, such as lamps, incense joss stick holders, bells, statues, urns and plaques. Later, the craft of bronze casting was handed down to the children of the craftsmen, who built up villages and worked togeth- until the present day. The most reputed villages are Giang Dinh, Giang Tien, Kinh Nhon Ban Bo and Truong Dong- The villagers of Kinh Nhon are members of the Nguyên family and are natives of Bao Ninh Province in northern Vietnam, and the Tong family (of Thanh Hoa Province in Central Vietnam). Members of their 10th generation arestill practicing bronze casting in Hue. some bronze casting craftsmen from northern Vietnam went to settle in Phuoc Kieu village in Dien Ban District, Quang Nam Province (southern Vietnam), and later they moved to Hue and have practiced bronze casting since the time of Canh Thinh (1792-1801).
|An Hoi Keeps The Fires Burning For Bronze Censers|
Text and photos by Dang Khoa