The Empire of the Dragon

Find out what this legendary animal represents in Nguyen Dynasty art and architecture

By Quang Binh Tourism Department

Thua Thien Hue Province Department of Tourism

Close-up of dragon decorations on the throneQuang Binh Tourism Department

Dragon is a legendary animal, ranked top of the four sacred spirits (dragon – unicorn – turtle – phoenix). In the East, dragon also is a symbol of the strong proliferation and the spring. During imperial time, dragon represented potent and auspicious powers, is closely associated with the emperors.

Dragon decoration on Thai Hoa Hall's roofQuang Binh Tourism Department

The shaping of dragon is the most successful expression of Nguyen Dynasty’s art. The artisans of that time created the image of the dragon not only to obey the artistic purpose, but also to comply with social institutions and then contemporary cultural institutions.

A bronze brass burners of Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) with dragons decoration by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

For those reasons, the dragon image under the Nguyen Dynasty is very diverse and abundant.

Dragon on the Belvedere of the Five-Phoenixes' roofQuang Binh Tourism Department

Only in Hue, the largest center of culture, politics and art of the time, that richness was manifested in many ways: space, material, artistic expression and decoration.

Dragon steps on Thai Hoa HallQuang Binh Tourism Department

In architecture, dragons were present on temples, palaces, fanes and pagodas in and outside the royal palace of Hue. Dragons appeared on the top of the roof, gables, gutters, screens, steps, rafters, door frames... of architectural works.

Red-lacquered and gilded ironwood columns in the palaceQuang Binh Tourism Department

Cloud-dragon decoration on pillars in the palace.

Dragon head in the arm of the throneQuang Binh Tourism Department

Nine Dynastic Urns, throne, throne’s parasol, and the worship place of Nguyen kings were decorated with dragons.

Dragon on a side of the throne pedestalQuang Binh Tourism Department

Dragon-decorated urn's straps (1802/1945)Quang Binh Tourism Department

Ivory dragon seal of emperor Tu DucQuang Binh Tourism Department

Also, the legendary animal were also used to decorate the knob of seals and king’s stationary...

The deck of "xam huong" (red slabs) with dragon decorationQuang Binh Tourism Department

A mirror-painting picture of emperor Thieu TriQuang Binh Tourism Department

Dragon pattern on the emperor's dragon robe by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

The dragon of the Nguyen Dynasty could be cast in bronze, carved from stone, sculpted from wood, bone, ivory and all kinds of precious stones. Dragon was embroidered on fabric, silk in costume, crown cap of the kings, mandarins and concubines.

Dragon details on the nine dragons globeQuang Binh Tourism Department

In general, the dragon of Nguyen art has inherited and developed from previous Vietnamese dragon generations. However, there are similarities with the Chinese dragon of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) because the Nguyen culture was influenced by Chinese culture. Dragon of the Nguyen Dynasty, through the hands of Vietnamese artisans, deserves to be an integral part of Vietnamese and Vietnamese art.

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