The design of these very rare chairs was inspired by bamboo furniture. The elegantly shaped aprons and rounded members were carved to simulate the bamboo furniture construction technique of bending long stalks of bamboo using steam or heat. The abundance of bamboo made it popular among the lower classes, as a cost-effective and more easily portable alternative to the more luxurious huanghuali furniture. This rare pair would have been commissioned by a wealthy family, attracted to the humble origins of bamboo furniture, but seeking the luxury and status associated with precious huanghuali.
While examples of horseshoe-back armchairs in huanghuali are readily known, one of the rarest variations of the form is the continuous rail horseshoe-back armchair. The delicate, simple lines give the form a refined elegance, while at the same time making it somewhat fragile. This may be the reason why there are so few known extant examples. A similar chair, dated to the early seventeenth century, but with cusped and beaded aprons and spandrels, is in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and illustrated by R. D. Jacobsen and N. Grindley in Classical Chinese Furniture in the Minneapolis Museum of Arts, Minneapolis, 1999, pp. 62-3.
Refer to Ronald W. Longsdorf, "Chinese Bamboo Furniture, Its Influence on Hardwood Furniture Design", Orientations, January 1994, pp.76-83, where the author discusses the features of bamboo furniture carried over to hardwood forms, such as rounded members, 'wrap-around' stretchers, 'stacked' stretchers and the use of closely placed vertical struts.