eMuseum Southeast Asia Ceramics

Bat Trang


Sites in Vietnam

Thanh Hoa
Chu Dau
Bat Trang

High fired ceramics were already being produced in Vietnam 2000 years ago. The white-glazed, white bodied ceramics from tombs in Thanh-hoa were older than any then known in China.

By the 1st century, the Vietnamese were aware of the glazing process when Chinese craftsmen followed Chinese soldiers and administrators to form new settlements in the region of modern Hanoi. Vietnamese wares nevertheless, closely resembled Chinese forms.

After the fall of the Han dynasty in the early 3rd century, the early Vietnamese ceramic tradition seems to have come to an end. A renaissance of sorts occurred in the period of the Ly dynasty (1009-1225). Vietnamese ceramics received a major impetus at the end of the 14th century when the Ming dynasty severely restricted exports.

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Bat Trang

The Bat Trang kilns are located about 10 km south-east of Hanoi. The name first appears in 1352. The first reference to ceramic production here is dated 1435. The site is still active today.

One tradition states that it was founded by people from Chu Dau, while local legend assigns credit for the foundation of the Bat Trang kilns to three Vietnamese scholars who went to China on a diplomatic mission in the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1126). They visited a ceramic factory in Guangdong, and brought back technical knowledge which led to Bat Trang learning how to make white glaze from one scholar, while another taught a different area how to make red glaze, and a third taught dark yellow glaze to a third region (Phan Huy Lê, Nguyen Chién & Nguyen Quang Ngoc 1995: 48). Other evidence points to Thanh Hoa as the ancestor of the Bat Trang industry (Miksic 2009: 60).

According to Long (1995: 87), Bat Trang ceramics were sent to China as tribute in the 15th century.

There is a lack of chronology for Vietnamese wares from the 14th to the 17th centuries because “of the internal homogeneity of the wares and the scarcity of archaeological data.” (Brown 1988: 27)

Bat Trang wares probably reached its peak production in the 15th and 16th centuries, coinciding with the Ming Gap, when Chinese wares were banned from being exported. The modern kilns there, however, have operated continuously at least from the 16th century (Brown 1988: 32).

Vietnamese ceramics of this period are most famed for their blue-and-white wares. The origin of this method of decoration is uncertain, but probably coincides with the Ming invasion of northern Vietnam in 1407. Brown (1988: 25) tells us that “with the introduction of cobalt for underglaze painted decoration, the underglaze iron black and monochrome wares quickly began to disappear”, along with previous decorative motifs and shapes.

Types of designs that would be dated to the early 15th C by Robert P. Griffing Jr (1976)
(Photo source: Brown 1988: fig. 18)
Underglaze blue decorative motifs, 15th-16th C
(Photo source: Brown 1988: fig. 17)
The new varieties are astounding in range: bottles, jars, dishes, plates, bowls, covered boxes, kendi, jarlets, zoomorphic water-droppers, and miniatures. Examples are shown below.

Pouring vessel with moulded heads of twin crested birds which serve as spout, missing cover, with anatomical parts drawn in underglaze blue.
13th-14th C
H: 7 cm, W: 17 cm
NUS Museum S2002-0002-003-0

Elephant-shaped ewer, the tail forming a handle and the trunk a spout. The anatomical parts and decorations of florettes are in blue underglaze with evidence of heap and pile. Similar elephants have been found in the Philippines (see Gotuaco, Tan, and Diem 1997: 252, plate V28).
15th-16th C
H: 17.5 cm, W: 11 cm, L: 21.5 cm
Private collection 

Blue and white kendi with onion-shaped spout and a stout neck that ends with a short flange just below the mouth-rim; decorated in dark blue underglaze on neck and collar, both sections divided by horizontal borders; motif on neck is a stylised leaf motif, and on the collar floral and vegetal scrolls; fluted body and spout with blisters in glazing; wide flat foot with glazed base.
Late 15th, early 16th C
H: 16.6 cm, D: 16 cm
NUS Museum S1955-0242-001-0

Blue and white bottle of yü hu chun ping shape, the neck decorated with 4 upright plantain leaves, the shoulder with 4 lotus-panels with leaf forms, and the body with 4 panels comprising vegetal motifs on a wave background; lower body with lotus panels; foot-rim entirely restored.
Late 15th, early 16th C
H: 27.5 cm, D: 15.5 cm
NUS Museum S1969-0110-001-0

Blue and white ewer with a short, stubby spout; a carved handle in the form of a cloud (probably not functional); and a chocolate base.
16th C
H: 22 cm; D: 18 cm
NUS Museum S1999-0009-006-0

Blue and white ewer with an elaborately turned handle and a long teapot-like spout having moulded cloud forms; decorated in blue underglaze throughout; a circle of lotus petals on lid, another on collar; two-thirds of body consists in 4 rounded rectangular panels comprising leaf and flower motif, separated by wave motif; lower body with perfunctory lotus panels; splayed foot with chocolate slip at bottom.
16th C
H: 19.5 cm; D: 21 cm
NUS Museum S1999-0009-004-0

Deep bowl with décor in blue underglaze; a floral medallion within a circular border; similar motifs interspersed on cavetto with a cloud scroll along inside rim; exterior wall divided into two horizontal registers; the upper of peony blooms and vegetal scrolls; the lower of lotus panels; high carved foot with chocolate slip on base exterior and interior. For an even larger example (30.2 cm in diameter) found on the Pandanan shipwreck in the Philippines, see Gotuaco, Tan & Diem 1997: 226–227, plate V4.
15th C
H: 13.5 cm, D: 24.7 cm
Private collection

Octagonal blue and white jarlet having a putty-coloured biscuit, with underglaze decoration of a lotus leaf collar and panels of a vegetal form alternating with wave patterns.
15th C
H: 8.6 cm, D: 9 cm
NUS Museum S1980-0206-001-0

8-lobed moulded blue and white jarlet having a putty-coloured biscuit, with a bright underglaze blue decoration with evidence of heap and pile; decoration of a collar of scalloped petals on the upper shoulder, and on the lower shoulder a band of 4 cloud-scrolls; the body with a scroll comprising 4 peony blossoms.
15th C
H: 8.8 cm, D: 9.9 cm
NUS Museum S1967-0014-001-0

Six-sided moulded jarlet with underglaze blue-black decoration; around collar, 6 pentagonal shapes comprising foliage-type motif alternating with geometric designs and on the body, 6 hexagonal panels with similar alternating motifs.
16th C
H: 5.9 cm, D: 7.1 cm
NUS Museum S1972-011-001-0

Jarlet with 4 pierced ring handles around the neck, in underglaze blue decoration of large flower blossoms amidst foliage. The yellowish-white glaze is crackled.
17th C
H: 9.1 cm, D: 11.2 cm
NUS Museum S1955-0179-001-0 

Cream and green-glazed limepot with a moulded and incised handle in the form of a vine. See also Brown 1988: pl. XIV a.
17th-18th C
H: 16 cm; D: 13 cm
NUS Museum S1999-0009-050-0

Blue and white limepot with decoration of stylized leaf and floral motifs.
18th C
H: 20 cm; D: 16.5 cm
NUS Museum S1999-0009-054-0

Blue and white jar with an unglazed rim (probably had a lid); décor in blue underglaze with heap and pile, divided into three registers by 3 horizontal bands; collar with stylised cloud motif; body with floral and vegetal scrolls; lower body in lotus panels.
16th C
H: 21 cm; D: 16 cm
NUS Museum S1999-0009-007-0

Tall jar of ovoid shape with 4 handles with moulded florettes, crackled glazed; underglaze blue decoration of classic scrolls on neck; on body, large flower blooms on a floral background; and around base, floral scrolls. See also Brown 1988: pl. Xll a.
17th C
H: 29.7 cm, D: 25.4 cm
NUS Museum S1955-0174-001-0

Blue and white dish with underglaze bamboo motif, unglazed rim with classic scrolls, plantain leaves on the cavetto and the outside wall having 11 lotus panels enclosing leaf forms; no chocolate base but a slightly greenish glaze.
15th-16th C
D: 35.8 cm; H: 7.5 cm
NUS Museum S1971-0056-001-0

Plate with fish motif on centre medallion, the cavetto decorated with 5 feathery leaf-like motifs; lotus panels in underglaze blue on exterior walls, high foot with two horizontal bands near base; chocolate base.
16th C
H: 9 cm, D: 33.5 cm
NUS Museum S1999-0009-044-0

Plate with an unglazed rim, the flat lip decorated with a classic scroll, the cavetto with 6 stylised lotuses in a scroll; the centre medallion with an elaborate peony wreath surrounded by a scalloped- petal border; the outside wall with 16 lotus panels enclosing leaf-forms. This dish may be roughly dated to the mid-15th century on the basis of a bottle in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul,bearing a date corresponding to the year 1450 (see image below).
15th-16th C
H: 6.3 cm, D: 37.5 cm
NUS Museum S1969-0067-001-0
Potters of Bat Trang included both males and females, sometimes husbands and wives together. This is shown by a tradition in which potters signed some of their works, like at Chu Dau.

In the 15th century one potter, a woman, inscribed her surname (Bui) on her work. This is the famous vase dated 1450, now located in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul. According to several sources, the inscription indicates the potter was female (Brown 1988: 28 and footnote 22). (Miksic 2009: 60-61)
H: 54 cm
(Photo from: Brown 1988: pl. X)
Source: Miksic 2009: 59-60

Dish with an unglazed rim, the flat lip with a classic scroll, the cavetto with a scroll of 6 flowers, the centre medallion with a lotus wreath surrounded by a border containing cloud-scrolls, the outside wall with 11 lotus panels enclosing leaf-forms, all painted in a pale blackish underglaze blue. The carved foot is unglazed, and has a chocolate base.
16th-17th C
H: 8 cm, D: 36.2 cm
NUS Museum S1955-0260-001-0
In terms of decoration, in addition to the blue-and-whites, overglaze enamels in red and green, and sometimes yellow, are added to the repertoire.

Polychrome plate decorated in underglaze blue with red and green enamel; a tiger on centre medallion surrounded by cloud motifs and a circular border of scallop motifs; on cavetto, six ogival panels of flower blooms on a wave background.
15th-16th C
H: 9.5cm, D: 41.5 cm
Private collection

Tall octagonal jar with 8 handles; neck decorated with lotus panels in blue underglaze; multi-coloured overglaze enamels of 2 dragons, with pearl and 8 auspicious objects on a background of cloud and wave motifs; near foot, floral scrolls in blue underglaze.
17th-18th C
H: 34 cm, D: 27 cm
NUS Museum S1980-0001-001-0
Finally, Bat Trang is also known for the production of censers in the 16th and 17th centuries. The mass fabrication of these censers might well attest to the revival of Buddhism during that period (Miksic 2009: 61).

Rectangular incense burner with ivory and moss-green glaze, Le Dynasty, 1637. The milky or ivory white glaze was applied on the corners and borders but not on the decorations, and the ceramic form are both typical of the kiln site and period. Eleven such incense burners with inscriptions of the 17th century are known. Greyish-blue and yellowish-brown glaze were used on censers made by the potter Dang Huyen Thon in the late 16th century. The three-part structure of the larger incense burner in the collection is similar to that of an inscribed artefact in Vietnam dated 1637 (Nguyen 1999: 167). Ornately decorated with phoenix dragons made from sprig designs. (See also Nguyen 1999: 167, pl. 51, N81; Phan Huy Lê et al 2004: pls. 61, 86-91.)
17th C
H: 34 cm; D: 24 cm
NUS Museum S1999-0009-045-0

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