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A LONG HUANGHUALI WOOD LATE MING OR EARLY QING DYNASTY SIDE OR ALTAR TABLE WITH OPENWORK SIDE PANELS CARVED IN A SHOU OR LONGEVITY CHARACTER SUPPORTED BY FOUR DRAGONS

Length: 119 in. (302 cm.), Depth: 19.25 in. (49 cm.), Height: 35.1 in. (89 cm.), Circa 1620-1735

This large Side or Altar Table has massive yet elegant proportions; beautifully carved decorative motifs; a rich, lustrous color; and, most importantly, a powerful presence. The single slab of huanghuali wood found on its top is extraordinary, just over 3 inches or 7.75 centimetres thick. In his commentary found in pl. 104 of Classic Chinese Furniture, Wang Shixiang states that “Ming dynasty huanghuali wood large tables with recessed legs over 3 metres are rare, and rarer still if both the materials and workmanship are fine.”

Please compare our piece with two magnificent solid top huanghuali wood Side or Altar Tables originally in the holdings of Ming Furniture Ltd. which can now be found in The Chinese Rooms at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (149.5 in., 380 cm.) and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (114 in., 285 cm.).

In Ming Furniture In The Light Of Chinese Architecture on pages 145 and 146, Dr. Sarah Handler writes: “The long huanghuali side table with shou characters, fashioned from thick pieces of wood and massively proportioned, would have been perfect for an open room since the back is finished with as much care and detail as the front. The extraordinary top consists of a single piece of boldly figured huanghuali that is just over three inches thick and finished with rounded, scroll-form everted flanges. The heavy top is supported on thick legs that in a rare variation of the standard form are enlarged, rather than flared, at the foot. A double row of beading in the center of each leg divides into angular spirals at the foot and continues as a single bead along the edge. The spandrels are carved with wide, flat angular scrolls arranged in reversed symmetry on each side of the leg. The thick openwork side panels are each carved with a single large shou longevity character within a roundel resting on the backs of two small dragons. Another pair of dragons touches noses at the top of the roundel. Beautifully carved and powerful in design, all the decoration on this table harmonizes with the heavy solidity of its form.

The written character is a favorite decorative motif in China. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, it invokes wishes for long life, good fortune, wealth, health, and happiness. Acting as a magic charm, the mere presence of such an auspicious character increases the owner’s chances of attaining the good fortune it embodies. The ornamental combination of a character flanked by dragons is very old and was found on an Eastern Han jade bi-disc unearthed in Qingzho, Shandong. The disk is surmounted by a pair of dragons that flank three characters, meaning ‘suitable for descendants’ or yi zi sun. Often quite abstract, it can have the same rhythmic vitality as the surrounding dragons. Shou characters adorn all sorts of household objects and are a popular architectural decoration as well.  The pierced carving on the side panels gives a surprising sense of lightness to this otherwise heavy table’s form. The three-dimensional patterns are equally beautiful on both sides. Pierced carvings on furniture and in architecture became highly developed in the Qing dynasty when conventional motifs were replaced by more lifelike plant designs that wonderfully explored the three-dimensional possibilities of the technique. Splendid examples of the architectural use of pierced carving can still be seen in the Forbidden City and the Suzhou Gardens.”

 

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