Lacquered & Wooden Image of a Mother Goddess (Tuong Hao)
late 19th century
height: 47cm, width: 32cm
This beautiful, very finely carved, wooden image has been lacquered and gilded. It belongs to a group of images used in northern Vietnam to represent a Mother Goddess – known as a tuong hoa, literally, a statue of a queen. The actual image might be based on Queen Trinh Thi Ngoc Truc, a seventeenth century queen who endowed monasteries and temples and in later life took nun’s vows.
The worship of Mother Goddesses in Vietnam is an indigenous cult known as
Dao Mau in which a range of female figures from folklore and history are worshipped as protective goddesses. Dao Mau is also associated with spirit medium rituals. The belief system runs parallel with Buddhism, which by contrast, is an imported religion.
Much attention during the image’s construction has been paid to the detail. The ivory-coloured skin; the carefully rendered fingers including a long fine finger nail on the small finer of the right hand there to denote that the figure is not involved in manual labour; copious strands of beads and some well-defined floral earrings; and the gilded folds of the dress all serve to make the image life-like.
The eyes of the image are particularly fine: they are inlaid with either shell or glass.
The figure sits cross-legged on a red-coloured platform, and wears a tall headdress associated with royalty.
A square reliquary chamber is visible on the figure’s back. Most probably this contains or contained a small dedicative scroll and other keepsakes.
Mother Goddess figures are worshipped in palaces, city and village temples, and in family homes. Such figures are considered by adherents to be the mother and protector of everyone.
The image is in an excellent condition. There are no breaks or repairs, just minor wear associated with age and shrinkage-related cracking..
Duyen Nguyen, SOAS, pers. comm., March 2015.
Phan, H.H., ‘Vietnam Fine Arts Museum: Sculpture in the Feudal Period (1010-1945)’,
Arts of Asia, January-February 2008.Provenance:
UK art market
Inventory no.: 3032