Huế rushes to save country’s most valuable mural

Update: September, 15/2018 - 10:00
Stunning: The pagoda’s main hall with the mural on its ceiling. — Photo
Viet Nam News

THỪA THIÊN-HUẾ — Huế is rushing to find a solution to rescue a masterpiece mural—part of which was created when a royal painter used his foot as a drawing tool.

The mural Cửu Long Ẩn Vân (Nine Dragons Rollick in Clouds) is under threat of demolition as the building in which it is painted is subject to demolition to make way for new buildings at the historic Diệu Đế Pagoda in this former imperial city.

The mural was created on the ceiling of the pagoda’s main hall by the late artist Phan Văn Tánh, a gifted painter in the era of King Khải Định (1916-1925). Khải Định was the second-to-last king of the Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945).

The mural includes two sections depicting a legend of the Buddha’s birth. The ceiling mural depicts five dragons rollicking in clouds. Royal records say the painter was lying on a bamboo scaffolding frame and used his foot to draw the dragon heads, which needed bold details to be seen from far away.

The other four dragons were painted on the pillars reaching up to the ceiling.

The mural is considered the oldest and largest one in the country. It is also praised as one of the most significant art works of Vietnamese painting in the 20th century.

On Thursday afternoon, researchers, monks at the pagoda, representatives of the local Department of Construction and the Huế Monuments Conservation Centre met for a discussion, but did not reach a conclusion on the preservation of the mural.

Researcher Nguyễn Hữu Thông said rescuing the mural is hopeless as the monks wanted the building to be replaced by a new, bigger one, according to a master plan approved beforehand.

Phan Thanh Hải, director of the conservation centre, said the centre’s technical experts are waiting for permission from the monks to get more details on the structure, seeking a conservation solution.

The Huế Monuments Conservation Centre is a local government body that manages all relics built by the Nguyễn Dynasty in the city. The centre is working as technical advisor for the reconstruction project of the pagoda.

Researchers and members of the public in the city believed that rescuing the mural is part of the centre’s job as the pagoda used to be a private royal residency built for the dynasty’s third king Thiệu Trị. The other kings later designated it a national pagoda of the kingdom.

Trần Đình Hằng, head of the Việt Nam Institute for Culture and Arts Study in Huế, said the surprising factor was that local authorities have not recognised the pagoda as a heritage site. That title helps protect old, historic buildings from development projects and destructive interference.

Researcher Thông called for a public campaign to protect the mural from demolition as well as restore the building’s leaky roof that could damage the mural. — VNS

Fancy footwork: A dragon depicted in the mural at the pagoda. — Photo