The extreme rarity of zitan wood is worth noting. With its smooth and silk-like texture, fine and dense grain and strikingly deep lustre, zitan wood has long been the most prized timber type for furniture makers in China. Its natural lustre, called baojiangliang in Chinese, develops with use and is impossible to reproduce artificially. Its long growth period and limited availability in China made it especially valuable and by the Qing dynasty measures were taken for its protection.
The carving of the peony scroll motif on the present tables appears to have been inspired and is closely comparable with designs found on Ming and Qing period lacquer wares. For example, see a red-lacquer table, attributed to the early Ming dynasty, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Zhongguo qiqi quanji, vol. 5, Fujian, 1995, pl. 30; and a large dish with the peony and bird design, published in Wang Shixiang, Ancient Chinese Lacquerware, Beijing, 1987, pl. 51.
While no other similar table appears to be recorded, the present pair are reminiscent of a table in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Two Hundred Pieces You Should Know. Red Sandalwood Furniture, Beijing, 2008, pl. 77, and also in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Furniture of the Ming and Qing Dynasty (II), Hong Kong, 2002, pl. 135, fashioned in zitan wood and with related legs of square section terminating in hoof feet. Although the apron on the Palace Museum table is decorated with bats and clouds, the carving style, in luxurious and rich deep relief, is similar to that seen here. Compare also a large zitan square table, attributed to the Qianlong period, its apron carved with a dense acanthus leaf scroll that continues onto the square section legs sold in these rooms, 9th October 2007, lot 1330, and its companion piece, in the Art Institute of Chicago, illustrated in Lark Mason, ‘Examples of Ming Furniture in American Collections Formed Prior to 1980’, Orientations, January, 1992, fig. 9. Related floral scroll decoration may be found on another table, from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, included The Two Hundred Pieces You Should Know. Red Sandalwood Furniture, op.cit., pl. 131.
For examples of tables of this type, but with simpler decoration, see a hongmu altar table, sold in our New York rooms, 25th September 1986, lot 536; and a huanghuali table with an apron carved with gourds and meandering leafy vines, sold at Christie’s London, 10th May 2011, lot 205.
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