Dong Ho painting (Vietnamese: Tranh Dong Ho or Tranh làng Hồ), full name Dong Ho folk woodcut painting (Tranh khắc gỗ dân gian Dong Ho) is a line of Vietnamese folk painting originating in Dong Ho, a craft village located on the left bank of the Đuống River in Bắc Ninh Province, about 35 km from Hanoi. Dong Ho painting have been set records to be submitted to UNESCO for the recognition of intangible cultural heritage since 2014.
History & Making
According to the villagers, the making of Dong Ho painting was dated back to the 11th century during the reign of the Ly Dynasty, while researchers propose that craftsmen began to print pictures in Dong Ho village during the rule of Le Kinh Tong (1600–1619) of the Lê Dynasty. In the dynastic time, Dong Ho village is one of the few places which had the tradition of making folk paintings, along with Hàng Trong, Kim Hoang, and Sinh village.
Originally, Dong Ho paintings were made only with black-and-white prints of woodcuts, but from the 15th century, different colours were introduced by craftsmen in the village. As a village specialized in making woodcuts and paintings, almost all Dong Ho villagers were involved in the manufacturing of paintings from carving the woodblocks, producing điệp papers, obtaining natural colours to creating new themes, and printing.
Dong Ho craftsmen use a special type of paper named điệp paper. The bark of Dzo tree, which normally is grown in Tuyên Quang Province, is soaked in water for months, then mixed with powders of seashells (sò điệp) and glutinous rice to make sheets of paper. Due to the elements of seashell and glutinous rice, điệp paper possesses an exotic sparkling hard background and is able to conserve the durability of colours. The colours are refined from various kinds of natural materials which are easily found in Vietnam. For instance, the red colour is taken from red gravel in Thiên Thai Mountain, while the black comes from charcoal of burned bamboo leaves. In that way, a Dong Ho painting can keep its colours for a long time.
The last stage of making a Dong Ho painting is printing, the woodblock is applied with paint and pressed on a sheet of paper like a stamp. One woodcut is for outline and several others are for each colour printed, and they are carefully engraved by hand so the woodcuts can be preserved through generations. The finished picture is covered with a layer of rice paste to strengthen the durability of its illustration and colours and afterwards dried under the sun.
Dong Ho painting is considered a fine reflection of traditional aesthetic value, social philosophies, and innermost feelings, wishes, and simple dreams. The traditional themes of Dong Ho painting are good luck signs, historical figures, folk allegories, popular stories, and social commentaries. Elements of everyday life are well integrated in Dong Ho paintings to express the thoughts and wishes of people.
Because Dong Ho paintings are mainly bought and displayed on the occasion of Tết (Lunar New Year celebration), contents are often humorous and optimistic with bright and powerful colours such as red, yellow, and white. The most popular and best-selling paintings are Gà đàn, Lợn đàn and Chăn trâu thổi sáo, which represent the wish for prosperity, happiness and luck in the New Year. Together with the illustration, a Dong Ho painting also has some Hán tự to literally describe the meaning. In addition, Dong Ho paintings are a medium to express the social concern of craftsmen through subtle social, political, and cultural criticism. For example, before World War I, Dong Ho villagers produced a set of four prints entitled The Progress of Civilization in which the Westernization of the Vietnamese society was delicately criticized through the satirical portrayal of contemporary Vietnamese people dressing and behaving like French people. Some Dong Ho paintings became famous for their interesting themes like the picture Rat’s wedding (Đám cưới chuột) which features a wedding march of rats with the rat bride and groom and other rat guests delivering gifts to a big cat in hope that the cat will leave the happy “couple” alone.