These elaborate zitan basin stands are an imposing and grand example of imperial Qing furniture.
By the early Qing dynasty, zitan wood became a very expensive commodity since their number dwindled dramatically from excessive lumbering activities throughout the Ming dynasty. The scarcity was compounded by the fact that these trees are slow growing and required centuries to fully mature into usable material. Although local sources of zitan exist in the southern provinces of Yunnan, Guangdong and Guangxi, much of the material was imported from Southeast Asia. As an imported material, at the imperial workshops zitan wood was scrupulously monitored and carefully restricted.
Furniture made of zitan wood was highly appreciated in the Qing dynasty and reflects the aesthetics value and life style preference of the period. Zitan furniture of the Qing dynasty is more decorative and elaborate than the Ming style of 17th century. The wood is dense and dark in colour, these characteristics provide the perfect material to display the elaborate carving.
While some imperial zitan furniture was produced at the Beijing Palace Workshops, many pieces were also crafted in Guangdong and Suzhou specifically for the Qing Court. In 'Major features of Qing Court Zitan Furniture,' Notable Features of Main Schools of Ming and Qing Furniture, Hong Kong, 2001, pp. 98-121, Tian Jiaqing discusses the characteristics specific to some regions of manufacture of imperial zitan furniture. He explains also that the focus of attention was the ornate decorative motifs, some of them incorporating western elements.
Of traditional Chinese form and construction, the present pair of basin stands shows some western influences. On the undertier for example, the traditional peony is associated with European acanthus leaves and rococo scrolls. The rest of the decorative motifs are more typically Chinese such as the bat holding a double peach branch which provides the homophone for fu shou which relates to fu shou shuang quan ('Blessed with both Happiness and Longevity'). The phoenixes on both the central panel and terminating the crestrail on top of the uprights, suggest that these stands may have been part of a bride's dowry, and would have stood in a Chinese lady's chamber. Imperial zitan lanterns dated from mid-Qing dynasty and showing very comparable phoenix-form terminals are kept in the Palace Museum and illustrated in Ming Qing Gong Ting Jia Ju Da Guan, Beijing, 2006, pp.392-393, n. 413. See also a pair of imperial zitan lanterns offered by Christie's Hong Kong, 28 November 2012, lot 2041.
No comparable zitan liuzu gaomianpenjia example seems to be published. See other huanghuali mianpenjia which basin stands are composed of wheel-shaped stretchers of six spokes connecting the feet, one in the Collection of the Palace Museum, illustrated in Furniture of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (II) - The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2022, pl.253 ; two illustrated in Wang Shixiang, Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture - Ming and Early Qing Dynasties, volume II, Hong Kong, 1990, pls. E42 and E43 ; another sold by Christie's New York, 22-23 March 2012, lot 1753.