Three Pure Ones

Being the Art Museum’s Collections Management Intern for the semester has been nothing but fascinating. Getting the opportunity to explore a recent acquisition of Vietnamese and African pieces, with similarities to the collections at the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is an opportunity that most undergraduates do not get the chance to work with. With this position, I am in charge of documenting the artwork, providing a brief description, including its cultural provenance, a condition report, taking photographs, and digitally entering this information into the database in order to make it accessible to the general public. However, with limited knowledge of Vietnamese art, understanding exactly what I was looking at became a little tricky. Even without the full context and backstory of each of the hundred plus catalogued pieces throughout the semester, I learned to appreciate each one for what I saw them as.

This donation totaled around 180 objects ranging from masks, textiles, ceramics, and woodworks. Some of my favorite and most interesting pieces I worked with were two of the Shaman Ritual Crowns from Vietnam, which inspired me to do some further research on. All very different in shape and design, the high priests’ crowns came in varying levels of complexity and decorative symbols. Some crowns are made of painted paper, while others are made of cotton with fully embroidered figures. The crowns from the Museum’s collections I cataloged are most likely from the Yao Daoist priests, dating to the early twentieth century. They were always decorated with the “Three Pure Ones,” which distinguishes them from the other ethnic groups. The first crown, is a boxlike shape made of a special paper, reinforced with glue and joined together with thread, and is only worn by the shaman priest. It features two pieces of cloth, called “ears” on the left and right sides.

The second crown, also made of paper, cloth and paint, is more distinguishable as a crown with triangular peaks along the top. The crown also depicts the “Three Pure Ones,” seated in the center with each holding a tablet. The figure in center and right are depicted with black hair, compared to the figure on the far left, who is balanced with white hair. Black is believed to absorb all the light, while white outputs the light and elements. The backside of the crown depicts two underworld messengers, shown with animal heads, accompanied by the Lord of Death in the center.







Vietnamese Shaman Crowns, Paper with pigment
Top images: 8 x 6 ¼ inches
Bottom images: 9 ½ x 15 ½
Bates College Museum of Art
Gift of Mark Rapoport, MD and Jane C. Hughes

Samantha Fellers, ’19
Art & Visual Culture: History and Criticism