Dông Son culture, 3rd – 1st century BC
L. 40 cm or 15 ¾ in
This sword is exceptional in more than one way: in its rarity while we only know a few ones in the Dong Son sculpture and by the sculpture that ornaments its hilt. Archaeologists are used to call this short sword as “Nui Nua sword”, because a very similar Dongsonian one was found in Nua mount of Thanh Hoa province. It is now exhibited in the Museum of Thanh Hóa, a city in the North Central Coast region of Vietnam.
The rarest feature of this sword is its representation of a woman, identifiable by her long sarong. Men, for their part, wore short loincloths. These anthropomorphic pieces effectively played a precious role in furthering knowledge of apparel in times past. The sarong is decorated with spirals and hatching, both very typical of Dong Son bronzes. One can also distinguish a belt with a band of cloth. Another interesting detail is the axe held in the right hand. If women are regularly represented in Dong Son iconography, if only because of the role they played throughout the centuries – let us mention the legend of Au Co, spouse of King Long Quan, considered being the founding and protecting mother of the country – it is very rare to find feminine figures carrying weapons
Even if there is a heavy archaeological patina, the face is highly expressive. The details are finely worked and great emotion streams out, through the wide eyes that dominate a narrow face, which inscribes itself harmoniously in the lines of the sword. Jewellery was very important for Dong Son men as much as for women. This woman is wearing a heavy necklace and large earrings. Even more impressive is her high headdress in a cone shape that brings to light the great mastery of the Dong Son bronze smiths.
The force of the object and the richness of its decoration suggests a ritual (or sacrificial) use during important events or ceremonies, that seem to have been very frequent in Dong Son society, if we judge by the numerous representations of dancers and musicians on ritual objects such as drums, situlas and knives.
Provenance: Private collection, France
Art Loss Register Certificate, ref. S00091781
- Monique Crick, Art ancien du Viêt Nam, Bronzes et céramiques, 5 Continents (Ed), Collections Baur, Musée des Arts d’Extrême-Orient, Genève, 2008.
- Monique Crick (Ed), Viêt Nam, Collection vietnamienne du musée Cernuschi, Paris Musées et Editions Findakly, Paris, 2006.
- 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.
- Dr. Nguyen Viet, The imaged Trung Ladies on the handle of a Dongsonian dagger, in Fine Art of Vietnam, vol 01.