Painting tables, large-scale pieces of a certain depth suitable to
be used as desks, belong to the rarest type of tables in surviving
examples of Ming furniture. Bamboo or cane furniture was often
depicted in Song (960-1280) and Ming (1368-1644) paintings.
Guotui or ‘wrap around the legs’ method of making furniture with
precious hardwood was inspired by their bamboo counterparts.
This table, with its rounded surfaces and round legs, was designed
to imitate a bamboo table. The use of precious hardwood
to simulate common materials illustrates the sensibilities of
understatement considered high-form by the Ming elite.
This excellent example has all round or rounded members, drawing its influence from bamboo furniture design. The normally straight or humpback-shaped stretchers below the aprons are curved to join up with the aprons in order to make more legroom. The decrease in stability caused by this feature is compensated by S-shaped braces, mortised and tennoned to the legs and the transverse brace underneath the table.
There are few zhuo tables of sufficient depth to be called painting tables and there are no comparable published pieces of a similar design. A painting table of similar size but with a waisted and hoof-feet design is illustrated in Grace Wu Bruce, Sublime and Divine Chinese Ming Furniture, Hong Kong, 2014, pp. 114-119.
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