Hué in time

Hué in time

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What´s left of the Old Hué gives a vague idea of how the Citadel and Imperial City looked like during the times of the Nguyen dynasty. Was the city as enchanting as its remains are striking with their absence? What was the ideal of beauty? Who were the artists? Which details are authentic and what is much later translation of former splendor?
Presuming that I´m not the only person interested, adding the great outreach of internet, the blog may be a platform for us who want to know more and who have something to tell about the city of Hué. In time.

Flowers of the Four Seasons

ArtPosted by Krystyna Kierebinski Sun, January 05, 2014 17:08:48
Considering the climate, the seasonal flowers of Hué might be the lotus, frangipani, flamboyan, or Cassia Fistula better known as Golden Shower tree. All of them represented within the Citadel.

As in China, so in the Imperial Hué, the decorative details associated to the nature in a certain way, obeying the Chinese aesthetic rules. Flowers of the Four Seasons is simply a category of symbols. Accordingly; the image of orchid represented spring, lotus represented summer, chrysanthemum indicated autumn, and early plum blossom stood for winter.

But those flowers were not only to please the eye. Emerging together on a different architectural details of the same building, or on a different sections of one set of paintings, they supposed to cause reflection over the time floating by...

Another aspect is the connection of the plants with certain qualities which respected and educated people (read: men) should posses. Three of the typical seasoning flowers had their prominent place among the "Four Gentlemen", plants associated with virtues like humbleness, loyality, love of poetry, firm character.

That is why, also here in Hué, the decorations presenting the orchid, the chrysanthemum, and the plum blossom are seen more often in the spaces occupied by men rather than women. But it was the right combination of different floral elements which actually indicated if the room was a male or a female domain.

One can only imagine the beauty of ornaments during the Nguyens times. Today only part of them is extend, painfully touched by turbulent times. Nevertheless, they witness of the former splendor and the tight connections to the Chinese taste rather than to local environment.

Section of the gate within the central- Western part of the Imperial City. March 2012

I´m starting with winter season. One could as well have it as a last one but the plum blossom with its delicate flowers concurs the frost and snow being (in Central-Northern China) the first flower of the year.

Beside being a "winter flower", plum blossom is also a symbol of a new love or rather falling in love. It has also an erotic meaning which could be the reason for its presence among the "Four Gentleman".

The pattern for the plum blossom is a small white flower with five petals. It may remind of some other kinds of plants but it is meant to be a Prunus mume. No question about that.

Detail from the Great Gate entering the temple section in the South-Western part of the Imperial City. March 2012

Trying to recognize the orchid one should not look for a showy flowers, on the contrary; in the Chinese culture the most appreciated orchid was the very humble one, growing on the rests of soil between some rocks or boulders, and having very small, insignificant, but fragrant, flowers.

Section of the decorative board on the wall within the Forbidden City. March 2012

Here the orchid is recognized by its long, bended leaves.
Relief is not so often seen among the ornaments of Imperial City. Here is a section of a Great Gate leading to South-Western temple section. March 2012

Lotus is Asia´s most symbolic flower thanks to its position within Buddhism. As a seasonal flower it has the summer to represent. Short is its time of blooming in Hué. Approximately one month in May/June period.

Lotus plant shown in the mosaic on the board decorating the roofed walking galleria connecting the Theater with the Emperor´s private apartments and leading farther, to the Queen Mothers´Compound. March 2012

Location as above. March 2012

Chrysanthemum´s bloom was traditionally associated with autumn. And, thanks to the classical Chinese poem, with patience, friendship, and loyalty.

This image of Chrysanthemum is decorating the The Mieu temple where all Nguyens kings have their altars. March 2012

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Hués shards mosaics

ArtPosted by Krystyna Kierebinski Tue, November 13, 2012 23:48:16
There are several spots in the Imperial City where the architectural details are covered by the colorful mosaics. But the Hué mosaics are made of the ceramics shards. Sometimes the glass is used clearly uncovering that the simple bottle was the source of the material.

The question may arise what was the technology behind this solution. Where the dishes deliberately broken? Or maybe there was some kind of depot with the shards being gathered among the people? Or, keeping the turbulent history of the city in mind, maybe the shards was thats whats left in the Imperial City after several damages?

Recently I found a Vietnamese internet forum where the intense discussion is going on about the history, architecture and restoration of Hué. All in Vietnamese but with plenty of photos which help to understand what is the subject.

I asked about the mosaics and the answer came immediately with a written source provided.

Apparently there was a custom in Vietnam according to which the people of the villages gathered their ceramics and porcelain shards to deliver them later as the material for the decoration of the temple or other building. It was seen as a respect payed to the village´s important place often dedicated to some worshiped deity.

As I understand the people of Hué did the same hence they really had something to pay respect to and to be proud of.

In other words, the shards we see in Hué was once the dishes of the local community. There lost their function but they are still beautiful.

Area behind this gate in the western part of the Imperial City was occupied by the Queen Mother who had to her disposal some pavilions, temple, gardens. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012

Closer look reveals that the gate is covered with mosaics. photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012

Protective creature, detail over the central vault. photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012

One of the floral compositions on the lower part of the gate. photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012

Window at the house where mandarins used to prepare themselves for the imperial ceremonies. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012

Close up of the window showed above. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012

While the shown above details are all reconstructed and restored there as some others probably remembering much earlier times.

Detail on the wall passed on the way from the Throne Hall towards the Theater. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012

Shards of the bue-white ceramics with delicate pattern. photo. Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012

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Bats of Hué

ArtPosted by Krystyna Kierebinski Fri, November 09, 2012 14:34:17
Bats enjoy the status of auspicious symbol in the Chinese culture. This because of the fact that the pronunciation of the word bat (fu) is identical to the pronunciation of the word meaning good fortune (fu).

The written characters for these words are different but in spoken language bat and good fortune are homophones. For this reason the depictions of bats were widely popular and warmly welcomed in China, being seen as the luck-bringing symbols or good omens.

I don´t know whether the Vietnamese language has similarly auspicious meaning of the word bat. It would be interesting to find out. As far we may notice that artists working for the Imperial City of Hué were generous with using bats as decorative elements. Which was surely appreciated by the beholders.

Flying bat as a wooden detail decorating a screen. Placed in the Queen Mother´s residence. Photo: Zdzislaw Kierebinski, March 2012

Flying bat composed of the ceramic sherds. Photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012

Window in the wall of the building where the mandarins used to prepare themselves for the ceremonies. Photo: Zdzislaw Kierebinski, March 2012

The building is now serving as a museum displaying various objects and photos. Here we can see four bats in every corner of the composition with the emblem shou, meaning in Chinese long life, in the center. The bats, stretching their wings, support the central symbol.

The line which could be drawn along the upper contour of the wings and the bat´s head forms sketchy version af a bat depiction. This schematic reminiscence can be seen on many details.

Yet another composition with the character Shou and supporting bats. This time in the wall surrounding the Imperial library. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012

Here the bats are monochrome (at least now) and even more sketchy than on the previously shown detail. Closer look reals the shape of a bat´s tail and it´s conical form. This will help to recognize more decorative details as bats.

Base of a semi pillar supporting one of many wooden walls of the the main gate. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012

The bronze urns, ordered and created in the auspicious number of nine also include bat- elements. Photo: Zdzislaw Kierebinski, March 2012

Close up of a decorative and auspicious element on the leg belonging to one of the urns. Photo: Zdzislaw Kierebinski, March 2012

Roof-covered arcades between the theater and the library. The bat-shaped supporting element on the each beam. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012.

Roof tiles covering buildings in Imperial City. While the upper tile bears the Shou symbol, the lower one reminds with its edge of a bat. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012

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Jade Boxes of Imperial Hué

ArtPosted by Krystyna Kierebinski Mon, October 15, 2012 16:11:28

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Imperial Seals

ArtPosted by Krystyna Kierebinski Mon, October 15, 2012 16:07:57

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ArtPosted by Krystyna Kierebinski Sun, September 23, 2012 18:58:22
Within the rich world of Chinese symbolic elements frequently depicted on silk, paper, porcelain, or murals, orchid symbolize the virtues of a nobel man, a literati. It has been related to the image of a loyal official and his moral qualities being in accordance to the Confucian hierarchy of values.

Orchids may be found in hundreds of spices but the Chinese aesthetics had chosen those most humble, insignificant plants, growing in the wild and having small, yellowish, fragrant blossom.

There are numerous examples of beautiful Chinese ink paintings where the orchids are single object or part of a composition: Orchid Zheng Sixiao (1241-1318), Orchid and Rock Ma Shouzhen (1584 - 1604), Orchids and Bamboo PanGongshou (1741 - 1794). Just to mention a few.

The example showed below may give an idea of the kind I´m talking about. Its purple flowers symbolize a wish and auspicious omen for plenty of grandsons. Yet another aspect of the orchids symbolic meaning.

Section of hanging scroll. Private collection. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski

Even though the most famous paintings are monochrome and sketchy the example here shows the typical features of the symbolic Chinese orchid. Its long bent leaves are easy to recognize.

Beside the noble virtues and wish for grandsons it also symbolizes spring. The other seasons are represented by plum blossom - winter, lotus - summer, and chrysanthemum- autumn.

Let us look at the orchids of the Hué´s Imperial City.

Decoration on a wall separating Forbidden City from the rest of the Citadel. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski 2012

As we can see, only the traces are left but the form of the long thin bent leaves is easily visible.

Our orchid can be recognized here on the left. The gate was leading from the Forbidden City to Imperial part. Through this one the arcade could be entered leading to the Theater. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, 2012

The uspectacular orchid plant was often combined with other plants or elements creating not only the artistic achevement of the painter but first and formost a whole idea well recognized by the beholder. One of such a groups was The Four Nobles or Four Gentelmen of the Year. Here the orchid was acompanied by plum blossom Prunus mume, chrisantemum and bamboo. Other classical compositions consist orkid, rock and pine trea, or orkid, rock and bamboo.

Vase for the offered flowers. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, 2012

The vase seen at the photograph above is most probably a new production and having nothing to do with the old Hué but the pattern is classic, copied through the centuries. In the central part we can easily recognize the slightly bending bamboo plant with the small orchid by its feet. We do not have to see the orchids flowers, the long leaves announce its presence.

Painted pillar, part of a balustrade around small pong. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, 2012

May not be so easy to see but the closer look let us confirm the precence of a few orchid plants accompanied by the chrysantemum flower. The damage and time made the rest of the composition almost vanish.

Painted relief, one of four, on the gate in the Forbidden City. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, 2012

As mentioned before, orchid was often depicted together with rock and the pine trea. The last one, being an evergeen, is a symbol of longevity and steadfastness. Pine is also one of The Three Friends of Winter together with bamboo and plum blossom.

Painted relief, one of four, on the gate within the Forbidden City. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, 2012

Here the orchids are growing accompanied by the rock and bamboo. Bamboo, so easy to bend, is symbol of flexibility, endurance, and youth. Presence of the rock on both shown above reliefs remindes of the great fondness of them among the litarati. Often placed in the gardens, rocks of different shapes were the symbol of the microcosm and the subject of meditation. In miniature, they were often placed on the scholar´s desk as a intelectual inspiration.

Wooden walking gallery on the area between the Theater and the Imperial Library, decorated with various symbolic emblems. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, 2012

Close up. Wooden relief on the walking gallery wall. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, 2012

Admired from the ground, the orchid is not easy to recognize but I think it´s there. The leaves could belong to narcisus but the small flower looks more like an orchid blossom. There is yet another element i the composition, reminding of a leaf or a feather. I would say it is an artemisia leaf. This plant is known for its unpleasnat smell which was very helpful and wildly used against the evil spirits and ghosts. This quality gave artemisia its status of protective symbol.

To be continued...

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