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.
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.