Oil lamp with two stems
Giao-Chi era, 4th – 5th century
L. 35 cm or 13¾ in
This oil lamp, exceptional in the richness of symbolism that presided at its creation, undoubtedly had as its first function to accompany the deceased into the Beyond.
The details of the figures that appear on the two arms connected to the cup, beginning with the presence of an orant, clearly confirm this. This worshipper, kneeling in an attitude of prayer, represents the logical link of the earthly world with the heavens. He is framed by two monkey-like creatures, shaped like people but with attitudes that are more reminiscent of monkeys: these monkey-men bring to mind a strange parallel world.
Next come creatures of the Chinese mythological bestiary: a dragon, symbolising strength and domination (which explains why nobles and dignitaries identified themselves with it), holding in its gaping maw the boshanlu perfume burner, illustrating the seven magic Taoist mountains situated on the threshold of the celestial world and immortality; then, on the other, shorter arm, a phoenix head, another fantasy animal, an immortal bird that is reborn from its ashes.
The Chinese imprint on this highly original Dông Son piece seems dominant, from the shape of the Han tripod to the numerous elements of Chinese mythology. However, the characters such as monkeys on their branches, as well as the spirals used as decoration, still recall the Dông Son world and its universe open to nature.
Provenance: Lan Huong Pham Collection, Switzerland.
- Monique Crick, Art ancien du Viêt Nam, Bronzes et céramiques, 5 Continents (Ed), Collections Baur, Musée des Arts d’Extrême-Orient, Genève, 2008.
- Nancy Tingley, Arts of Ancient Vietnam, From River Plain to Open Sea, Asia Society, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
- Charles Higham, The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia, Cambridge University Press, 1996.