Chinese Antique Furniture
of the Ming Dynasty
In 1368, Zhu
Yuanzhang established the Ming Dynasty. Due to the stable
political situation, social economy and overseas trade attained
and unprecedented resurgence and development. With frequent
economic and cultural exchange with foreign countries, and
imports of precious timber form southeast Asia, a large
number of palaces, residential buildings, and gardens were
built on an unbridled scale. Meanwhile, many scientific
and technical books on cabinet-making came into being, such
as 'Lu Ban Jing', 'Xiu shi Lu' (Decoration Record), 'Zun
Sheng Ba Jian (The eight letters of Zun Sheng), and San
Cai Tu Hui (Pictorial Collection of three Talents). All
of this helped the development of Ming furniture or reach
an unparalleled level. The achievements of its modeling
art, manufacturing techniques, and functional standards
took on a distinctive style and gained important place among
the furniture of the world.
We can see from
either existing Ming furniture of the paintings and woodcuts
of that time that the furniture of the Ming Dynasty was
rich in varieties and styles. It can be divided by function
into six categories: stools and chairs; tables and desks;
cabinets and chests; beds and couches; platforms and racks;
and screens. At this time, the concept of furniture sets
was formed, and complete sets of furniture appeared in hall,
bedroom, and study, divided by the function of each space.
They were usually arranged symmetrically, for instance one
table with two chairs or four stools. Sometimes furniture
was arranged freely in accordance with tow chairs of four
stools. Sometimes furniture was arranged freely in accordance
with the size of the room and requirements of use.
The timber used
in Ming Dynasty furniture was of tough quality, high strength,
beautiful color and fine grain. This contributed to the
production of extremely precise, scientific tenon structures.
The parts were small but of high strength; the shape was
simple but could be carved and processed ornately. The frame
structure developed in the Song Dynasty advanced to quit
a high artistic level in the Ming Dynasty, and this structure,
combined with creative new styles and ornaments on the accessory
parts, gave Ming furniture a pure and simple, but elegant
and delicate style, unique in its complementary use of the
hard and the soft.
of the Qing Dynasty
In 1640, the
Ming Dynasty was overthrown in a peasant uprising led by
Li Zicheng, butthe fruits of victory were captured by Manchu
nobles. In 1661, the Southern Ming Dynasty was destroyed
and the Qign Dynasty was founded. China was once again united.
In the early
Qing Dynasty, the seeds of developing capitalism were destroyed
by various suppressive policies. Furnitre at that time tended
to follow and inherit the traditional styles of the Ming
Dynasty, with no great changes in style or structure. But
in the mid-17th century, the Qing economy began to resume
and develop to a prosperous stage, flourishing during the
reigns of Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong. Numerous royal
gardens and buildings were constructed, and the private
gardens of the nobles contended with each other for beauty.
The search for material pleasure and the extremely decadent
ideology is clearly reflected in the gaudy interior decoration.
The application of precise craftsmanship, along with the
absorption of Ming Dynasty furniture structure gave Qing
furniture a unique style, distinct form that of the Ming
Dynasty. As for structure, stress was laid on stability
and impressive manner, and many new types of furniture appeared
in the Qing Dynasty, such as the multifunction showcase,
and folding and removable tables and chairs. In the Palace
Museum in Beijing, we can find many immovable articles of
furniture made with unparalleled skill.
In the interior
arrangement of the furniture of the Qing Dynasty, al long
table was usually set in the main hall with a square table
in front of it and a wooden lounge chair on each side. The
bed was placed on one side of the bedroom with a small long
table on each side. Garden furniture was arranged in a symmetrical
style. In the middle of the inner hall, a 'kang', or heatable
brick bed, was usually used with a desk and music table
on each side. Sometimes it was simply replaced with a round
table and several stools.
Antique Furniture (AFC) Inc.