Images of chickens in Vietnamese folk paintings

Curated by BuffaloTripJanuary 21, 2017 Viewed: 440

Chicken is a popular image in Vietnamese culture. Images of chickens can be found everywhere in folk paintings such as Dong Ho (Dong Ho Painting), Hang Trong, and Kim Hoang. Each piece has its own way to showcase the beauty of the chicken, based on distinct concepts, styles, techniques, and materials.

Dong Ho painting: “hen with her children” and “rooster with rose in mouth”

Both the Dong Ho painting and woodcut stem from Dong Ho village in Bac Ninh Province. In the past, Dong Ho paintings were a popular decoration to celebrate Tet – the lunar new year. Villagers bought the paintings to hang on their walls for a year and replaced them with new ones when the new year came. In Dong Ho paintings, chickens (Ho chicken) have the honor of being used in both drawing and etchings. The most famous ones are Gà đàn (the hen with her children), Đại cát (the rooster of fortune), and Tam dương khai thái (three goats representing luck).

While the Gà đàn delivers a blessing of peace and the happiness for the family and the Đại Cát symbolizes the wish for luck, Gà trống ngậm hoa hồng (Rooster with rose in mouth) represents farmers’ daily life. In Chinese, the word rooster sounds like fortune. The rooster is believed to bring luck and fortune for people in the new year. The rose symbolizes wealth, affluence, and prosperity. Therefore, many people buy the painting and hang it in their house, wishing a new start for their family in the new year.

Apart from unique lines and layouts, a special feature of Dong Ho painting lies on the colors and materials. The paper used in Dong Ho is called giấy điệp. They ground seashells, mix it with cooked glutinous rice, then use a broom made or pine needles to brush the mixture onto the paper. The broom creates long lines while seashells bring the paper a sparkling white background. Colors in Dong Ho painting are natural colors from plants. For example the black color is taken from ash of burned bamboo leaves; the green is from oxidized copper and indigo leaves, the yellow is from flowers, and the red is from gravel. They are the basic colors, equivalent to the number of wood carvings, therefore, Dong Ho paintings often consist of these 4 colors.

Further information:

The Dong Ho painting village is in Song Ho commune, Thuan Thanh, Bac Ninh

Hang Trong painting: the painting genre of the town

In the past, the main manufacturing area of Hang Trong paintings was located in the Tieu Tuc (later changed to Thuan My) in Tho Xuong district which is now the old quarter on Hang Trong, Hang Non, Hang Hom, and Hang Quat streets. Together with locals, numerous talented craftsmen moved to the area and worked for the painting workshops there. Due to the competitive market, the paintings often had the brand such as Thanh An, Vinh Loi, or Phuc Binh.

Different from Dong Ho, Hang Trong paintings boast their own beauty. The size is many times larger than other painting genres. There is only one woodblock with fine lines. The popular works of tigers, peacocks, and fish showcase the high levels of woodcarving craftsmanship. The woodblocks with ink are put on paper to create the main lines, then the artist will finish the painting by hand. Meeting the aesthetic concepts of people in the town, the Hang Trong paintings with two stages of printing and drawing have the ability to create a cultural world for Vietnamese people. 

There are two main types of Hang Trong paintings: worship paintings and Tet paintings. The worshipping paintings are illustrations of Buddha, three-door temple gate, four-door temple gate, and five tigers which are related to the worship of mother goddesses in Vietnam. Tet pictures are Chúc phúc (blessings), Tứ quý (four seasons), and Tố Nữ (virgin girl). Particularly, everyone wants to have a painting of a rooster this Chicken lunar year. In the painting, the rooster is majestically standing next to the vivid peony flowers, a shield for his children.

Hang Trong paintings the two techniques of printing and drawing. They only print the basic lines, the draw and color the picture by broad soft brush with water colors. The brush is half dipped in color and half in water to dilute the color. From the original woodblock carvings, the paintings are printed in Chinese ink. Two or three layers of paper reinforce the painting. After the paper is dried, it needs coloring. It usually takes 3 or 4 days to finish a painting. 

Further information:

+ History: Hang Trong paintings are now only made by the craftsman Le Dinh Nghiem. He shares that generations of his family have been engaged in painting since the late 16th century.

+ Direction: Mr. Nghiem’s house is at no 25, Cua Ong street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi. He reserves about 50 ancient woodblocks.

Kim Hoang: The red paintings

Kim Hoang is the common name of a popular painting genre in the 18th and 19th centuries in Kim Hoang village, Van Canh, Hoai Duc, Ha Tay (now Hanoi). The Kim Hoang village is composed of Kim Bang and Hoang Bang villages which built Trưởng bảng hội đình communal house in 1701. This is also the time when the red painting trend started.

Different from other folk genres such as Dong Ho or Hang Trong painting, Kim Hoang paintings are distinctive for their red color.  They do not use the same materials as Dong Ho or Hang Trong. Kim Hoang paintings are printed on scarlet paper and Chinese yellow paper. The pigs with black bodies and white border lines are as lovely as the clay pigs we see in the market. The red paper brings the pigs an impressive new beauty that can only be found in Kim Hoang paintings.

Kim Hoang paintings also include worshiping and blessing paintings. However, the genre boasts numerous advantages of both Dong Ho and Hang Trong paintings. Kim Hoang ones have finer and more sophisticated lines than Dong Ho while still containing the vivid colors of Hang Trong paintings. Regarding colors, Kim Hoang paintings use Chinese black ink, the white color from plaster and chalk, blue ink is blended with indigo, and chemical colors.

Kim Hoang’s people loved the images of chickens in their pictures. They honor the beauty of roosters with 5 good qualities. The crest represents erudition while the spur is for virility. Roosters are not only courageous in fights but generous when sharing food with their children and neighbors. They crow on time to keep their trust.

Further information:

Direction: Kim Hoang village is in Van Canh Commune, Hoai Duc, Hanoi

During Tet, hang a few folk paintings in your house to wish for a year of luck, health, and happiness. Moreover, in the lunar year of chicken, what could be better than welcoming Tet with a couple of chicken paintings from Dong Ho, Hang Trong, or Kim Hoang?