It is interesting to note the two different decorative techniques employed on the present throne. The first is the use of Qiangjin which involves the inlaying of thin gold leaves into finely incised design on a lacquer base. The earliest record of this style of decoration is found on the cover of a square box excavated in 1984 from the tomb of Zhu Ran who died in 249 A.D., illustrated in Anhui Institute of Archaeology, 1986, pp. 6-7, fig. 9. The Qiangjin method was popular during the Yongle period, and can be seen on red-lacquered sutra covers where the surfaces have been ornately decorated with gilt, such as the example included in the exhibition, 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1993, p. 153, no. 79. The second decorative style is known as Tianqi (in-filled), a technique where lacquer of different colours have been applied within specified outlines thereby providing an overall design. During the mid-Ming dynasty, the combination of qiangjin and tianqi methods were popularly employed for use on imperial lacquers, and there are a number of examples bearing Jiajing and Wanli marks, see ibid., nos. 80, 81, 82, 83, and 86. The design on the present throne is closely related to the Ming period prototypes, particularly in the rendition of lively dragons on a brown lacquer ground, although the Qing dynasty pattern is comparatively dense and more complex.
Thrones were an important part of palace furniture during the Qing dynasty, and their production was highly regulated in terms of size, decoration and the materials used. The present throne belongs to a group that is generally constructed of a rectangular seat supporting backrest that comprises five detachable panels. These panels are assembled and secured together with the use of tenons that fit neatly into grooves. A close comparison has been drawn with a cinnabar lacquer throne of this style and construction in the Palace Museum collection, as discussed by Hu Desheng (see page 147), and illustrated in Ming Qing Shi Nei Chen She, 'Ming and Qing Palace Interior Design', Forbidden Palace Press, 2004, p. 14, pl. 4; and again in Lacquer Wares of the Qing Dynasty, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2006, p. 6, no. 4 (see fig. 1, p. 147). The Palace Museum cinnabar lacquer throne has a Xuande reign mark inscribed on the underside but it is considered by experts to be of early Qing in date. The similarities in the motifs, style and form have been compared to the present lacquer throne.
Imperial thrones are rarely found in private hands. Compare with two zitan wood examples, the first included in the exhibition, Splendor of Style: Classic Furniture from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, National Museum of History, 1999, illustrated in the Catalogue, p. 96, dated to the Kangxi period; and the other, reputedly from the Yuanmingyuan and dated to 18th/19th century, sold in our New York Rooms, the C. Ruxton and Audrey B. Love Collection, lot 315. A related imperial throne dated late 18th century, designed with similar dragons in gilt-lacquer on the upper-facing surface of the throne seat, from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts collection, is illustrated in Classical Chinese Furniture, 1999, p. 77, no. 20. The Minneapolis throne is also surrounded by five vertical gradated panels, a curved apron and cabriole legs that are supported on floor stretchers. From its sumptuous design, the Minneapolis throne is consistent with the opulent tastes of the Qianlong Emperor, and considerably contrasts the austerity of the present Kangxi throne which follows more closely to lacquered furniture of the late Ming period.