From Dong Son to Nguyen

On Sunday morning HCMC’s cathedral was open and packed with the congregation for Mass. I was thus able to see the interior which is quite a large space:

It’s not true to say it has no stained glass windows. The majority of them were destroyed in the various conflict but there are some more recent attractive examples.

I found this side altar quaint. DSCN0351 My main objective in the morning was to visit HCMC’s most beautiful museum – the museum of Vietnamese history. This was a much need antidote after the the rigorous horrors of the war remnants museum.

Formerly known as the Musée Blanchard de la Brosse, the museum was built by Auguste Delaval in 1926. The Blanchard de la Brosse family were great collectors of Vietnamese artifacts and their collection formed the nucleus of the museum. Delaval was someone highly sensitive to the stylistic nuances and climatic requirements of Vietnamese architecture. He designed buildings that, while respecting these, also provide very functional spaces. Built around three courtyards the museum Delaval built for the de la Brosse family amply supplies these and is rather attractive.

The museum received its current name in 1979. Showcasing Vietnam’s history with exhibits from all periods the topics areas include the following:

  • Prehistoric Period (500,000 years ago to 2879 BC).
  • Metal Age (2879–179 BC), including artifacts related to the Dong Son culture of northern Vietnam and the Sa Huynh culture of central Vietnam.
  • Chinese Domination and Struggle for National Independence in the Red River Valley (179 BC – 938 AD)
  • Óc Eo Culture of the Mekong Delta region
  • Stone and bronze sculptures and other artifacts of Champa
  • Stone sculptures of Cambodia (9th–12th centuries)
  • Ngô, Dinh, Anterior Lê, Ly Dynasties (939–1225)
  • Tran and Ho Dynasties (1226–1407)
  • Dynasties from the Lê to the Nguyên (1428–1788)
  • Tây Sơn Dynasty (1771–1802)
  • Nguyễn Dynasty (1802–1945)

I know virtually nothing about Vietnamese history and am even more ignorant about its art. So for me viewing the objects was primarily the enjoyment of an aesthetic experience which could rarely be had anywhere else since in London I’d encountered very little art from this part of the world.

Certain things came out of what I experienced however. I realized that Vietnam is another of those cultural roundabouts where influences from more than two areas gather and often collide. For this country it is the Chinese influence from the north, the Indian influence from the west and the Polynesian influence from the east.

The rooms of the museum are filled with some wonderful objects. Spot the shamanistic bronze drum among these:

For me, the highlight of the museum was a hall with the most marvelous statuary from the Champa civilization which, unlike many of the other sections, was very well-lit.

There is also a rather small second section dealing with ethnic minority groups in Vietnam which could be a lot better.

The museum is situated in a park, filled with families having a stroll on their day off in the park is a zoo. I don’t like zoos and avoided it also because the guide I had said it was depressive. Should I have seen it?


One thought on “From Dong Son to Nguyen

  1. I would always want to check matters out for myself even just to see how the Vietnamese cater for their animals in zoos mayb could have been quite refreshing and innovative way of keeping their animals but then did the guide book stated that they are caged animals even so I believe it is always worth a viewing just to see also which animals are being held for humans pleasure. Funnily I am just reading a book called Zoos the basis of which is that the animals in the wild are revolting against us human beings as for real more and more humans are being killed and maimed in fact strange events are happening indeed this is quite scary! Well I will check out what is on view in the British Museums VIetnamese artefacts will be interesting to see what there is on view.

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