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A TALL PAIR OF LATE MING OR EARLY QING DYNASTY HUANGHUALI WOOD SQUARE-CORNER CABINETS

Height 85.5 in. (217 cm.), Width 49.25 in. (125 cm.), Depth 23.5 in. (60 cm.), Circa 1600-1700

These majestic cabinets are unique, not only for their unusual height and large proportions, but also for the vigorous grain pattern of the huanghuali on the front door panels, resembling mountainous landscapes in Song dynasty paintings. By selecting these long, plush planks for the door panel construction, the cabinet-maker has achieved a stunning, yet pleasing, visual effect without the necessity of relief carving - revealing the artisan’s tendency throughout Chinese history for making the best use of the intrinsic beauty of his materials in perfecting and completing his overall design. The purity of Ming hardwood furniture is reflected in these cabinets: their structure and shape, their lustre and polish, and the simplicity and design of their hardware. It is rare to find square-corner cabinets of such style and height, especially when they are a matching pair.

A square-corner cabinet (Height 75.5 in./192 cm.) with rounded, concave frame members and cusped lower aprons is illustrated in Wang Shixiang’s Classic Chinese Furniture, Plate 147. Another square-corner cabinet (Height 78 in./198 cm.) with scrolled apron carving (but no horizontal lower panel) is illustrated by Gustav Ecke, Chinese Domestic Furniture, Plate 131/Piece 104.

In Ming Furniture In The Light Of Chinese Architecture, pages 184 and 185, Dr. Sarah Handler writes: “The tall square-corner cabinet, or fangjiaogui, has the same design as the tapered cabinet except that each of the four corners form a right angle, there is no splay, and metal hinges are used instead of wood pivots. Unlike tapered cabinets, those with square corners can be placed side-by-side to form an impressive unit. This cabinet is exceptional for its height and large proportions. Its size, combined with the vigorous grain of the wood, mellowed with age and polished to a rich luster, gives it a sumptuous presence. The framing members are less rounded than those on tapered cabinets, creating a flatter overall surface and sleeker appearance. The flatness is echoed in the rectangular lockplate and hinges that conform to the shape of the wooden surface beneath and repeat, in a more elongated format, the square-corner form of the whole piece. The metalwork is both functional and decorative and, because of the hinges, has a greater prominence than on tapered models. The surface of the cabinet is a harmonious play of rectangular forms, verticals offset and balanced by horizontals, ending in a perfectly proportioned plain, wide apron and spandrels edged with a broad bead. A small recessed molding along the interior edges of all framing members subtly offsets the large panels. The back of the cabinet, consisting of tieli panels within huanghuali frames, would have been placed against the wall.”

 

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