Vietnamese Lotus Collar Jars – Buddhist or Secular Objects?
The classical period of Vietnamese ceramics, when vessel shapes and decoration diverge from Chinese sources, begins after the end of Chinese rule in the late 10thcentury and continues through the 17thcentury. Lotus collars are an enduring characteristic of Vietnamese ceramics of various ware types and shapes over this period. Thanh Hoa stoneware vessels (11thto 14thcenturies) often feature lotus collars. The collars encircle the mouth of vessels with a lotus petal motif carved in low relief. Large cylindrical storage jars are the best known and most characteristic object type of Thanh Hoa ceramics and typically feature prominent lotus collars. The appearance of the lotus collar in Thanh Hoa ceramics coincides with the growth and strengthening of Buddhism in Vietnam. As the lotus is a well-established motif in Buddhist art, the presence of the lotus collars on the jars has been interpreted as an indicator of a Buddhist function for these objects or evidence of the influence of Buddhism in Vietnamese material culture.
The blue-and white wares of Chu Dao and Thang Long kilns (14thto 17thcenturies) also yield examples with lotus collars, though with lesser frequency than the Than Hoa wares. These blue-and-white objects are decorated with painted rather than carved lotus collars and are associated with a wider variety of objects including export wares. By the Later Lê Dynasty (1428-1788), altar objects, such as Buddhist garniture sets and lampstands, employ a number of Buddhist motifs, yet the lotus takes a minimal role in this symbolism, suggesting that lotus imagery in Vietnamese ceramics is less associated with Buddhism in the later period.
Dr. John Johnston is an art historian specializing in Chinese and Vietnamese ceramics. Since 2016, he has served as an Assistant Professor of Art History at the Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong Baptist University. Previously, he was Curator of Asian Art at the San Antonio Museum of Art and a Research Fellow at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Dr. Johnston is author of Chinese Ceramics: Highlights of the Lenora and Walter F. Brown Collection(2014) and co-author of 5,000 Years of Chinese Jade(2011) and The Dragon’s Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan(2008).