Marble stools were among the pieces of stone furniture that were placed in gardens and courtyards in place of wood furniture that would have had to have been moved outside for gatherings. The design of this pair of marble stools would have been inspired by wooden stools of drum shape such as the jichimu stool in the Qing Court collection, dated to the early Qing dynasty, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum – 53 – Furniture of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1), Hong Kong, 2002, p. 77, pl. 62. The jichimu example has six oval openings in the bowed sides between two rows of bosses carved as flowers. Also illustrated, p. 76, pl. 61, is a huanghuali stool with burl wood top of similar date that has four large oval openings conjoined at the sides and centered by ‘legs’ that join the upper and lower aprons. These wooden stools with oval openings were themselves inspired by stools made of bundles of rush bound together to form interlocking ovals, which gave the stools their strength. These stools had circular wooden seats and bases. Rush stools of this type can be seen in a Wanli period woodblock print of a scene from Shui Hu Zhuan (The Water Margin) illustrated by Nancy Berliner and Craig Clunas in Beyond the Screen: Chinese Furniture of the 16th and 17th Centuries, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 1996, p. 96, where a white marble interpretation of rush stools is also illustrated, p. 97, no. 4.
The carver of the present stools has interpreted the drum stool shape with oval openings in a possibly unique manner, by carving them as if a second, smaller stool were inside the larger stool. These layers create an extraordinary sense of depth and complexity intensified by the solid core which acts as an additional backdrop for the shadows cast by the ‘outer and inner stools’.