Dong - Ho - Mice wedding
Folk Art and Crafts

Dong Ho Painting – A Quintessential Part of Vietnamese Folk Culture

Dong Ho painting – a special and unique line of Vietnamese folk painting originating in Dong Ho Village, enchants art lovers not only with its attractiveness and uniqueness of colors, layouts and shapes, but also with the natural materials, which creates a warm and intimate feeling toward this particular type of painting. Therefore, exploring Dong Ho Village should be included on your Vietnam cultural tours as an ideal place for taking an in-depth look at one of the most famous and distinctive parts of Vietnamese culture.

Dong- Ho - village

Dong Ho Village (Source: Google)

Bearing a few similarities with other genres of folk painting such as Sinh Village, Hang Trong, or Kim Hoang, Dong Ho painting – originating in Dong Ho Village, Bac Ninh – is a special type of folk painting, requiring the skillful hands of Vietnamese people. Dong Ho painting belongs to the line of folk woodcut painting and is created, produced and developed by Dong Ho villagers. This type of drawing attaches closely and expresses vividly the image of Vietnamese traditional agricultural society, the simple working life of farmers, along with the customs, habits, and daily activities of Vietnamese people. The themes of Dong Ho painting are found to be similar and close to human daily lives such as Đám cưới chuột (Mice’s wedding), pigs, chickens, girls picking coconuts or making a scene of jealousy.

Dong Ho wood engravings

Dong Ho wood engravings (Source: Google)

Dong Ho painting – an indispensable part in Vietnam cultural tours – with the distinctive folk art values has long been immortalized in poems and history, as well as seeped into the souls of Vietnamese people. Not only well-known for its remarkable features of lines and layouts, what makes Dong Ho painting stand out among its peers also lies in the color and printing paper used.

When printing pictures, Dong Ho craftsmen use a special type of paper called giấy điệp. They crush seashells into powder and mix with the bark of  tree (which is soaked in water for months) and glutinous rice to make sheets of paper. The colors of paint using in printing pictures come from nature such as black (charcoal from bamboo leaves), blue (copper rust, indigo leaves), red (gravel taken from Thien Thai Mountain) and yellow (flowers of Japanese pagoda trees). These are basic and pure colors which are easily found in Vietnam and Dong Ho paintings only use up to four colors corresponding to the number of wood engravings.

In order to complete a painting, the makers must be very elaborate and careful, as well as undergo many stages: the woodblock is covered with paint and pressed on a sheet of paper and then the paper is enveloped in a layer of rice paste to strengthen the durability and colors. Eventually, the pictures are dried under the sun to form images and outlines of natural beauty and daily lives of people.

Making a scene of jealousy

Making a scene of jealousy (Source: Google)

Regarding the use of colors in Dong Ho paintings to suit different topics, there are a few interesting explanations taken from renowned artists of this painting line:

  • Red is used in depicting a jealous scene to describe the anger and annoyance in the atmosphere.
  • Yellow is applied to the picture’s background to represent the joyful spring of Tet holiday and light Pink works as a backdrop for peaceful villages.

Dong Ho painting emerged in Dong Ho Village, Song Ho Commune, Thuan Thanh District, Ha Bac Province. In the 16th century, Dong Ho painting made its first appearance but there was difficult to know for certain how many samples are there and the artists came down with 5 common types: worshipping painting (Tranh thờ), History painting, Celebration painting (tranh chúc tụng), daily-activity painting (tranh sinh hoạt), and Story painting.

In the past, Dong Ho paintings were sold mainly during Lunar New Year. The villagers buy paintings and put them on the wall and replace with a new one after a year ends. The heyday of Dong Ho Village was around the late 19th century to the 40s of the 20th century. During that time, there were 17 families in the village and all of them were devoted to making paintings. Whenever July and August arrive, there is a busy atmosphere around the village when people are busy preparing for Tet holiday and the whole village is adorned with the brilliant and colorful colors of điệp paper. There is no vacant space left that Dong Ho villagers don’t make use of to dry papers: in the yards, along the alleys and village roads, on the rooftops, etc.

Wrestling

Wrestling (Source: Google)

It is no exaggeration to say that Dong Ho artists have created many extraordinary masterpieces which have remained popular and favored by many Vietnamese people up until now. The paintings successfully portray different familiar topics related to Vietnamese beliefs and customs such as the collection of good luck wishes – Gà đàn (flock of chickens), Lợn Âm dương (Yin-yang pig), Cá chép (carp); Folk allegory – Thầy đồ Cóc (Frog teacher); Everyday activities – Đấu vật (wrestling); social commentary – Hái dừa (Picking coconuts) and Đánh ghen (making a scene of jealousy).

Picking cononuts

Picking coconuts (Source: Google)

The reason why Dong Ho painting has the vitality and special appeal to many generations of Vietnamese, as well as foreign friends, is that its themes reflect the true, lively and bold nature of life, along with the traditional culture of Vietnamese people. Therefore, it would be a mistake not to include visiting Dong Ho village in your Vietnam culture tours to fully enjoy and experience one of the most exceptional folk arts of Vietnam.

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