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These Rare Paintings Depict Life in Vietnam in the 17th and 18th Centuries

Now we can envision Vietnam well before the advent of photography.

The website Watercolour World has shared a collection of centuries-old watercolors depicting different aspects of Vietnamese culture, as well of different landscapes of what was then not even called Vietnam.

At this point we're all familiar with photography from the 1960s and 1970s from the many foreign military service members who trained their lenses on local life when they were in the country. There is even a fair amount of work from the early 20th century to observe, though largely taken through the viewpoint of French colonists.

Going farther back, we often have to rely on the written word — which is great, of course: this website wouldn't exist were it not for words. These watercolors, then, are a rare peek into what is today Vietnam as far back as the 17th century, which might as well be another planet compared to what we see today.

A rustic view of Con Dao by an unknown artist, courtesy of the National Library of Australia. Estimated to be from the 1790s.

Look around where you are sitting now. What would your corner of Saigon (or whatever city you are in) have looked like in 1790? The mind can hardly fathom. Explore very old Vietnam through the set below:

A temple by an unknown artist (1684–1685), courtesy of The Royal Society.

The king of Tonkin by an unknown artist (1684–1685), courtesy of The Royal Society.

A wedding ceremony by an unknown artist (1684–1685), courtesy of The Royal Society.

A mandarin smoking from an opium pipe, by Sigismond Himely from 1820. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library.

Galleys and sailors rowing in them. By an unknown artist (1684–1685), courtesy of The Royal Society.

A ceremony to bless the ground. By an unknown artist (1684–1685), courtesy of The Royal Society.

A variety of performing arts. By an unknown artist (1684–1685), courtesy of The Royal Society.

A captain's log from off modern Quang Nam Province. Drawn on May 24, 1793 by Vice-Admiral Lord Mark Robert Kerr.

[Images via Watercolor World]

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