Known as sijiangui, 'four-part wardrobes,' these compound cabinets were generally made in pairs, and it is extremely rare to find a set of four. Garments and large items would have been stored in the lower cabinets, while smaller items would have been kept in the top chests, often requiring the use of a ladder due to their massive size. While the front of the present cabinets is veneered in huanghuali and inset with burl, the frame and side panels are made from zhangmu, or camphor, and would have been employed to protect garments and other contents from moth and insect damage.
The present set of cabinets is a superb example of the highly successful combination of huanghuali veneer and huamu. This combination, popular in classical Chinese furniture construction, forms a pleasing aesthetic, with the lighter huanghuali providing an attractive contrast to the darker, swirled grain of the burl. Numerous examples in various forms where the combination of huanghuali and burl is used are documented. See C. Evarts, 'From Ornate to Unadorned: A Study of a Group of Yokeback Chairs,' Journal of the Classical Chinese Furniture Society, Spring, 1993, pp. 27-9 and 32, for a group of armchairs with burl-inset splats. For an interesting discussion on burlwood and its use in Chinese furniture, see C. Evarts, 'The Nature and Characteristics of Wood,' Journal of the Classical Chinese Furniture Society, Spring 1992, pp. 38-40.
Not only are the present cabinets larger than standard compound cabinets, they are inset with very large single panels of burl. It is extremely difficult to find burl panels of this size without numerous flaws, and this would confirm that even at the time they were made, the present cabinets would have been highly valued.
Compare a smaller (242.6 cm.) nanmu burl-inset huanghuali compound cabinet and hatchest, from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, sold in these rooms, 18 March 2009, lot 375, where it was dated to the 17th/18th century.