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A VERY RARE HUANGHUALI TWO-DRAWER ALTAR COFFER, LIANERCHU

LATE 16TH EARLY 17TH CENTURY

Details
A VERY RARE HUANGHUALI TWO-DRAWER ALTAR COFFER, LIANERCHU
Late 16th Early 17th Century
The rectangular top with everted flanges supported on straight legs of rectangular section with "sword-ridge" molding and bracket-form flanges, joined at the front by a stretcher enclosing two drawers, each with rectangular decorative molding and vertical metal fittings, above a cusped apron crisply carved with beaded edge spilling over to form scrolling vines
34¼in. (87cm.) high, 55¼in. (140cm.) wide, 16½in. (42cm.) deep
Literature
Curtis Evarts, "The Enigmatic Altar Coffer", JCCFS, Autumn 1994, No. 4

Lot Essay

Compare the table with a flat top over three drawers with similar hardware, brackets and carved apron, from the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture, sold in these rooms September 19, 1996, lot 52. A related coffer with three drawers over a compartment is illustrated by Wang Shixiang, Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture, vol. II, p. 169, no. E12. Another, also with three drawers over a compartment and shaped carved spandrel, is illustrated on the cover of Ming Furniture, New York, 1987

For a history of the altar coffer see Evarts, "The Enigmatic Altar Coffer", JCCFS, Autumn 1994, pp. 29-44, in which it is pointed out that the present table, bearing no evidence of reused wood or alterations apart from the hardware, is plausibly contemporary with a Chongzhen (1628-1644) illustration to the novel, Jin Ping Mei, depicting a coffer similar to the present one. The carpenter's manual, Lu Ban jing, dating from the Wanli period (1573-1624), also depicts a scene in which a maid attends her mistress at an almost identical table with two drawers

The term "altar coffer" is a Western label with no Chinese precedent, resulting from old photographs showing them used as family altars. Larger versions can still be found in temples and monasteries. However, typical of Chinese furniture, they were not limited to this use and were no doubt used to store common domestic objects as well as books and scholar's objects. They are not mentioned by writers on furniture and are rarely depicted, although occasionally found in illustrations of women's quarters. The hardware makes the drawers lockable with a Chinese padlock, so presumably they could have been used to contain valuables

For an early Ming lacquer prototype with a Xuande mark, see Michel Beurdeley, Chinese Furniture, p. 97, fig. 132
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