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Birmingham Museum of Art Celebrates Vietnamese Ceramics

20th-century tea set, (left); antique tea bowl (right). From the Loves’ collection. © Charles & Mary Love

“Chinese ceramics are good for the eye; Vietnamese ceramics are good for the heart.”

This is a sentiment from an unnamed Vietnamese scholar quoted in the catalogue of Dragons and Lotus Blossoms—the excellent exhibit of Vietnamese ceramics at the Birmingham Museum of Art, on through April 8.

As we learned while exploring the antique shops in Hanoi several years ago, Vietnamese pottery, both porcelain and stoneware, was produced in a variety of shapes, with hand-painted motifs as skillfully rendered as those by any Oriental calligrapher or ink brush master.

Vietnamese potters in the clay-rich Red River Valley, near Vietnam’s northern border with China, learned to make stoneware from the Chinese around the first century A.D. In subsequent centuries, they imitated Chinese works and experimented on their own. Today, Vietnamese ceramics, once dismissed as derivative and provincial, have come into their own.

The good news is that the Birmingham Museum of Art has one of the top collections of Vietnamese pottery in the U.S., along with the Metropolitan Museum in New York City and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Their collection includes 15th- and 16th-century blue and white export wares that they acquired in the 1970s and have added to over the years.

If you appreciate fine ceramics and have the opportunity, check out this wonderful exhibit. For more information, contact the Birmingham Museum of Art. Website: www.artsbma.org. Tel: 205-254-2565.

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