Phan Thanh Hai

This spring, visitors to Hue can marvel at an exhibition of royal treasures unseen for more than seven decades

Dowager Empress Seal (Gold, 1849)

To welcome spring, a special exhibition of antiques will be hosted in Long An Palace, the main display hall of the Hue Museum of Royal Antiques. The treasures on display were removed from Hue following the abdication of Emperor Bao Dai on August 30, 1945. When Emperor Bao Dai abdicated the Nguyen court handed more than 2,500 of its most valuable items to representatives of the revolutionary government. These items included jewelry, jade, golden books, religious items and the royals’ everyday possessions. Many items are fashioned from rare and precious materials such as gold, silver, tortoiseshell, cinnabar, pearls and ivory. Besides their material value, these items testify to the skill and passion of the best artisans from around the country who had been summoned to Former Hue Citadel. Each item is one-of-a-kind and linked to the political and everyday lives of emperors, empresses, princes, princesses, royals and mandarins of the Nguyen Dynasty. Over the decades, this invaluable collection has been kept intact.

As part of the cooperation and research project between the Vietnam National Museum of History and the Hue Monument Conservation Center, a special collection of 64 key items will be put on display in Hue. The exhibition is accompanied by a guidebook  titled “Royal Antiques of the Nguyen Dynasty”.

Card of High-ranking mandarins of the Privil Council (Gold)

Nguyen Dynasty antiques on display include gold jewelry, golden books, and items that Nguyen rulers considered the “key belongings of the nation”, such as the Empress Seal cast in 1934 for Empress Nam Phuong and the Crown Prince Seal cast in 1939 for Crown Prince Bao Long. The most important treasure of all is a jade piece titled “Dai Nam at the Eternal Behest of Heaven”, carved in 1847 from a large piece of green jade.

 The collection also includes the “Accounts of Imperial Genealogical Poems” cast at the behest of Emperor Minh Mang in 1823 on 13 golden sheets, measuring 23.2 by 13.7cm. Other stunning items include gold blades with jade hafts decorated with coral and tortoiseshell, the emperors’ Heavenly Square Imperial caps, and jade and golden cards that represented the rulers’ supreme power.

Religious items in the collection include gold and silver urns, gold, jade and coral altars, gold and jade trays and glasses. There are also valuable writing implements and daily belongings such as betel and areca kits, vases, trays, cups, chopsticks and spoons, trays and liquor pots in gold and jade. All of these items were used by members of the royal court.

These precious 64 items are on display in five specially made glass cases. Having been safely stowed away for more than 70 years, these items are now on display in their place of origin. This exhibition will allow both visitors and locals to marvel at treasures that were once thought to be legendary.

Jade and gold teapot and cups

UNESCO recently recognized the poems inscribed on Nguyen court buildings in Hue for their outstanding heritage value. One  spring verse reads as follows:

Whenever the spring comes early
It must be in the royal citadel of Hue

The return of these royal antiques herald a splendid spring in the former citadel.