The history of Vietnamese ceramic traditions reflects the complex history of Vietnam itself. Early on, during a millennium of rule by China, northern Vietnamese potters learned from China’s ceramic technology even as the region incorporated aspects of Chinese culture. With the independent dynasties of Ly (1009–1225) and Tran (1225–1400), experimentation with new forms and approaches expressed a reinvigorated cultural confidence as the Vietnamese expanded their territory southward. Commercial trade with Southeast Asia in the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries flourished on the export of blue and white ceramics imbued with uniquely Vietnamese designs and flair. During all of these periods, potters incorporated elements of Vietnam’s interaction with foreign cultures but adapted them in distinctive ways based on available raw materials and their own cultural identity and vitality.
The Menke collection consists of fifty-seven objects ranging in date from the Dong Son Culture (700–43 BC) through the seventeenth century and was assembled over more than forty years by the eminent nuclear physicist John R. Menke (1919–2009).