Luy Lau ceramics feature the soul of an ancient citadel

Luy Lau, a line of ancient ceramics from the northern province of Bac Ninh's Thuan Thanh District is reviving its historical, cultural and artistic values after many ups and downs, 

even facing the risk of disappearing as many master artisans pass away.

Luy Lau ceramics feature the soul of an ancient citadel

Some artifacts were discovered at the excavation of the Luy Lau relic in 2018. 

The traditional pottery line features the ancient royal era dating back 2,000 years, helping present generations understand the talent and ingenuity of their forefathers through the unique culture that once flourished in the Dau area in Bac Ninh.

Luy Lau pottery is known as aristocratic as it is associated with the name of an ancient Vietnamese citadel -- the Luy Lau -- during the northern Chinese domination period in the old land called Dau in the 2nd century.

The old land located on the bank of the Duong River, now belongs to Thuan Thanh District, Bac Ninh Province.

Field excavations conducted in 2016 in Thuan Thanh showed that the Luy Lau Citadel was the country's largest and oldest centre of politics, economics, trade, culture, and religion. Here lie the ancient Luy Lau ramparts with the relics of the once splendid pagodas, residences and monuments.

A conclusion was drawn from the preliminary report conducted by archaeologists from the National Museum of History, the Bac Ninh provincial Department of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, and Japan’s University of East Asia.

In 2015, archaeologists collected a large number of architectural vestiges, such as bricks and tiles, and houseware, such as ceramics and cooking tools, dated between 100 BC and the 14th century. 

Luy Lau ceramics feature the soul of an ancient citadel
Part of the ancient Luy Lau Citadel in Thuan Thanh District, Bac Ninh Province after restoration. Photo baothainguyen.vn

Unique glaze

The Luy Lau ceramic products were often crafted with fancy glaze, elegant and warm olive green colour by the most skilled artisans exclusively for the royals and aristocrats. The products were also used as materials for building temples, palaces and decorative artworks for royalty.

Although from the era when heating technology was still very rudimentary and after thousands of years of social and historical changes, this ceramic line is considered to be the epitome of technique and art.

Experts found that it took 300 years for the trade to revive since it disappeared in the 17th century in the ancient land of Luy Lau.

“Luy Lau ceramic is the finest of the traditional ceramic lines of ancient Vietnam, and represents all the northern ceramic lines,” said famous historian Duong Trung Quoc.

"As it was born more than two thousand years ago, Luy Lau is one of the oldest pottery lines in the country, with many unique products showing a high standard of development in the art of shaping and burning," Quoc spoke to Nhân Dân (The People) newspaper.

Quoc recalled his late master historian Tran Quoc Vuong who devoted much time to the study of the ancient land of Luy Lau in his lifetime. The master once said the red pottery products in the Dau - Luy Lau region were considered typical and exemplary, meeting the specific technical-artistic standards of the southern ceramic line that scientists have long named as Song Hong (Red River) pottery.

"So, in fact, Song Hong pottery is the Luy Lau red ceramic line," the expert said.

Scientific seminars have been held inside and outside Bac Ninh to help restore and develop Luy Lau pottery. With the ancient ceramic products found during excavations in Nguyet Duc, Thanh Khuong of Ha Man communes of Thuan Thanh District, archaeologists and historical researchers noticed the outstanding features of their colours with green olive enamel.

However, they also found that due to many historical incidents, including the fall of the northern domination, the Luy Lau pottery line seemed to have moved through the Luoc, Duong, Thai Binh rivers to settle and make new ceramic centres in Hai Duong and Thai Binh provinces.

Through scientific research, local leaders and artisans came to a common conclusion that it is necessary to create typical products for the brand name "Red Pottery in Dau - Luy Lau Region".

Experts have also affirmed that Luy Lau pottery will develop well in the future, particularly during the world integration period. 

Pioneer preserver

 
Luy Lau ceramics feature the soul of an ancient citadel
Luy Lau pottery artisan Nguyen Dang Vong. Photo vov.vn

Today, more and more artisans have engaged in studying and preserving the traditional craft. One of them is the pioneer Nguyen Dang Vong who is considered by his community as the man of the Dau ceramic.

Born in Thuan Thanh District, the artisan has devoted dozens of years to restoring and preserving the traditional occupation of his ancestors.

"Actually when I was a child, I did not have any inclination about pottery at all until 1971 when Prof Tran Quoc Vuong and his archaeologist team returned to my hometown in Ha Man Commune to excavate and find artefacts of Luy Lau ancient citadel," Vong said.

"My friends and I were very excited to see them working. The professor talked with local people in the Dau region about the history and beauty of Luy Lau pottery. I was among them feeling so enchanted that I wanted to restore the pottery line of my hometown."

After graduating from the Faculty of Fine Arts, the Ha Bac College of Culture and Arts in 1980, Vong said his passion for pottery was in his blood, making him travel everywhere to learn about the Luy Lau - Dau region.

He wandered around many museums to learn about ancient ceramics. Sometimes, he stayed in many famous pottery villages of the northern region such as Bat Trang, Phu Lang, Chu Dau and then went to Tho Ha in Vinh Phuc Province to learn about pottery and how to make it.

"I know that I must listen to and keep contact with national historians and archaeologists to learn about the history and unique features of Luy Lau pottery. I had many good chances to be instructed by Prof Vuong and historian Quoc," he said.

The celebrated artisan has put all his heart and talent into discovering and restoring the ceramic glaze of the Luy Lau pottery. He has successfully found that the glaze is made of extracts from assorted ash, mulberry tree wood in the local Dau-Keo area.

The main pottery clay is also taken from the land of the Dau area, with a little bit of gravel from the forest and scallop shells of the sea then decorated with artistic drawings.

According to artisan Vong, through many trials with both failures and certain successes, up to now, the products can reach the completion level of 80-90 per cent similar to the predecessors' original Luy Lau ceramics.

“Such glaze is really unique, unlike any other in Vietnam and in the world. From nearly 40 years of my research and through excavations and seminars, historian Quoc also said that Luy Lau pottery has become a historical brand since 2,000 years ago," Vong said.

Luy Lau ceramics feature the soul of an ancient citadel
One of the Luy Lau ceramic products made by the Luy Lau Ceramic Co-operative. Photo courtesy of the co-operative

The artisan established the Luy Lau Ceramic Cooperative in 2006, which recruited many young people to study the Luy Lau traditional pottery. From there, new generations will follow the pottery occupation making it develop into a brand name.

The co-operative produces about 10,000 items of 10 product categories every year.

Prominent among his works is a 2.2-tonne ceramic vase, which was on display during the celebrations of the Hanoi City millennium anniversary in 2010.

Luy Lau ceramics have appeared in major domestic, regional and international events including the APEC and WTO economic forums and meetings.

They are also loved by domestic and foreign customers winning many contracts to be exported to France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the US.

Luy Lau ceramics feature the soul of an ancient citadel
The ceramic glaze of the Luy Lau pottery is really special and unique, unlike any other products in Vietnam and in the world. Photo of the Luy Lau Ceramic Co-operative

They also won prestigious awards for their quality and cultural and artistic value including the Viêt Nam Golden Globe Awards 2005, Việt Land Gold Star Awards in APEC exhibition 2006, Việt Nam Elites Awards in WTO exhibition 2007, Việt Nam Iconic Entrepreneurs and Businesses Golden Awards 2008, and was one of the 10 major products in the Thang Long Grand Millennium Ceremony in 2010.

Source: Vietnam News

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