Art History Lab

Exploring the Rich History of Traditional Vietnamese Art

A Brief History of Traditional Vietnamese Art

Vietnam has a long, rich history of art, with a distinct style that blends Chinese and Southeast Asian influences. In this article, we will take a journey through time and explore the evolution of traditional Vietnamese art, from its early beginnings to its modern-day forms.

Neolithic Art in Vietnam

The earliest known form of Vietnamese art dates back to the Stone Age, when people first began using clay to make pottery. Some of the oldest examples of this pottery have been found in the Bac Son and Hoa Loc areas of Vietnam.

This early art form was characterized by simple, practical designs, such as jars, bowls, and other vessels.

Bronze Age Vietnamese Art

As the Bronze Age dawned in Vietnam, new forms of art began to emerge. The Phung Nguyen, Dong Dau, and Go Mun cultures all produced intricate bronze artifacts, including weapons, ornaments, and household items.

However, the most famous pieces of Bronze Age Vietnamese art are the Dong Son drums, which were used for communication, celebration, and religious rituals. The drums are adorned with images of warriors, animals, and musicians, and are a testament to the skill and creativity of the ancient Vietnamese people.

Chinese Domination in Vietnam

From 111 BC to 938 AD, Vietnam was under the control of the Han, Tang, and Song dynasties in China. During this period, Chinese artistic styles and techniques had a strong influence on Vietnamese art.

Ceramics and terracotta were popular mediums, with yellow and white glazes becoming popular. Chinese themes and motifs, such as dragons and phoenixes, also began to appear in Vietnamese art.

Vietnamese Ngo to Tran Dynasties

During this period, which spanned from the 10th to the 14th centuries, Vietnam experienced a cultural renaissance. The country began to develop its own distinctive artistic style, which incorporated elements of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.

Celadon porcelain became a popular medium, with multi-colored glazes creating complex, beautiful designs.

Traditional Vietnamese Art During the Fourth Chinese Domination and Nguyen Period

From 1407 to 1428, Vietnam was once again under Chinese rule. During this time, Vietnamese art was heavily influenced by Ming artistic traditions.

Ceramics and porcelain remained popular forms of art, with court music and dance becoming more elaborate and refined. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Vietnam was ruled by the Nguyen dynasty.

During this time, the country experienced an influx of French art styles. The Fine Arts College of Indochina was established, which produced many of the famous Vietnamese artists of the 20th century.

Lacquer and silk became popular mediums, and war and propaganda were recurring themes in art.

Late-20th-Century Vietnamese Art

In the 1980s, Vietnam underwent a period of radical reform known as the Doi Moi movement. This led to a resurgence of interest in traditional Vietnamese art forms, as well as the emergence of new, independent artists.

Art galleries began to appear throughout the country, showcasing the work of both established and up-and-coming artists.

Vietnamese Sculpture and Ceramics

Vietnamese sculpture and ceramics are also important forms of traditional art. Sandstone sculptures can be found throughout the country, with images of Ganesha, Buddha, and other religious and mythological figures.

The My Son temple complex in central Vietnam is particularly famous for its sandstone sculptures. Vietnamese ceramics are also highly prized, with blue and white designs being particularly popular.

Lacquerware is another form of Vietnamese art, with intricate designs created by applying layers of colored lacquer to a wooden surface. Porcelain is also a popular medium, with underglaze cobalt blue decoration creating beautiful, delicate designs.


The history of traditional Vietnamese art is a complex and fascinating subject, with many different styles and techniques emerging over the centuries. From the simple clay pottery of the Neolithic era to the intricate lacquerware of the modern age, Vietnamese art has evolved and adapted to meet the changing needs and desires of its people.

Whether you’re an art lover or simply curious about Vietnamese culture, there is much to discover and admire in this unique and beautiful art form.

Vietnamese Painting

Vietnamese painting has a long history, filled with beautiful and intricate works of art that capture the essence of Vietnam’s culture and tradition. From silk painting and lacquerware decoration to modern and contemporary paintings, Vietnamese artists have contributed greatly to the global art scene.

Lacquerware Decoration and Painting

Lacquerware is a traditional Vietnamese art that dates back more than 2,000 years. It involves the application of high-gloss lacquer to a wooden base, which is then decorated with various materials like gold leaf, eggshell, inlaid mother-of-pearl, and other decorative materials.

While lacquerware used to be mainly used for functional items like trays, boxes, and bowls, it has gained popularity as an art form in recent years. Lacquerware painting is a delicate process that requires a great deal of skill and patience.

Traditionally, natural lacquer was used to create the high-gloss finish. But, with the advancement of technology, synthetic lacquer has become a popular alternative.

Layers of lacquer are applied to the wooden surface, with each layer meticulously sanded, and polished before the next layer is applied. The result is a beautiful and durable object that is not only decorative but also has longevity.

Silk Painting

Silk painting is another traditional Vietnamese art form that is both delicate and beautiful. Silk painting involves painting directly onto silk canvas with silk dyes and paints.

This method requires a great deal of skill and precision since silk is a delicate material that can easily be damaged. Vietnamese silk paintings are renowned for their intricacy and beauty, particularly their landscapes.

The country’s silk painting traditions have been passed down through generations of artists, and many still use traditional techniques. The delicacy and beauty of silk painting make it a revered art form admired by people worldwide.

Vietnamese Contemporary Painting

Modern and contemporary Vietnamese painting has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, with many young and emerging artists exploring new techniques and styles. Contemporary Vietnamese painting is varied and includes abstraction, figure painting, landscapes, and other themes of beauty.

Newer generations of Vietnamese artists are moving away from traditional themes and styles and are exploring new techniques to evoke different emotions in their audiences. A growing number of contemporary Vietnamese artists are also incorporating digital art and multimedia into their work.

Famous Modern Vietnamese Artists

Vietnam has had a rich tradition of art and has produced many talented and globally recognized artists. Some of the most famous Vietnamese artists include Le Pho, Nguyen Gia Tri, Nguyen Phan Chanh, and To Ngoc Van.

Le Pho is known for his traditional lacquer paintings that depict life in Vietnam, its beauty, and serenity. Nguyen Gia Tri is considered to be the master of Vietnamese silk painting.

He brought a new dimension to the genre of silk paintings by developing the techniques of watercolor, ink, and gouache onto the silk, which he called “silk painting without outlines. Nguyen Phan Chanh is well-known for his works depicting the lives of ordinary Vietnamese people.

To Ngoc Van is regarded as one of the pioneers of modern Vietnamese art and is known for his bold and colorful paintings of the Vietnamese countryside and the everyday people who inhabit it.

Vietnamese Art in the Global Market

Over the years, Vietnamese art has gained a global reputation, with many international collectors appreciating the country’s traditional subjects and art styles. Though relatively new to the global market, art collectors are showing greater interest and appreciation for Vietnamese art.

Vietnamese artists are now recognized globally, and their work is viewed in prestigious galleries worldwide. With an emerging collector base and international prospectors exploring Vietnam’s contemporary art scene and traditional art forms, Vietnamese art is becoming increasingly recognized in the global art market.

This recognition is creating opportunities for the Vietnamese art industry, which is experiencing growth and prosperity. In conclusion, Vietnamese painting is a complex and rich area of art, with diverse styles, techniques, and traditions.

From traditional lacquerware painting and silk painting to modern and contemporary painting, Vietnamese artists continue to produce extraordinary works of art that are admired and cherished worldwide. With growing recognition and appreciation in the global market, Vietnamese painting is now finding its place as a respected and highly valued art form.

In conclusion, Vietnamese art is a rich and diverse subject that encompasses a range of styles, techniques, and traditions. From traditional lacquerware painting and silk painting to modern and contemporary painting, Vietnamese artists have made significant contributions to the global art scene.

The importance of these works of art lies not only in their beauty and craftsmanship but also in their ability to offers insights into the country’s history, culture, and traditions. As Vietnamese art continues to gain recognition and appreciation globally, it is becoming increasingly important to preserve and celebrate these unique and extraordinary works of art.

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