Likely used as a painting table in a scholar’s studio, its generous length and depth would have provided ample surface for free, unimpeded movement. The painting table or desk was the most important piece of furniture in the scholar’s studio and placed in a central position in the room ‘with one end against a window where abundant natural light made writing, painting or reading a more pleasant exercise. In this position, the opposite side could also be used by an assistant to hold the sheet of paper or for some other purpose’ (see Wang Shixiang, Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture, Hong Kong, 1990, vol. 1, p. 68). Such tables are often depicted in contemporary paintings and woodblock illustrations, as in Shengyu xiang jie [The sacred edict, illustrated and explained] published in the early Qing dynasty (fig. 1) or in two anonymous hanging scrolls depicting the Yongzheng Emperor (r. 1723-1735) in his studio, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Paintings by the Court Artisans of the Qing Court, Hong Kong, 1996, pls 12.1 and 12.5.
Rectangular waistless tables of these broad proportions are unusual and those with aprons carved from ebony are very rare. While no other closely related example appears to have been published, tables of simianping design with stretchers between the legs include a table with corner spandrels illustrated in Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, Chinese Furniture. Hardwood Examples of the Ming and Early Ch’ing Dynasties, New York, 1996, pl. 67, together with a smaller example, pl. 78; another from the collection of Marie Theresa L. Virata, sold at Christie’s New York, 16th March 2017, lot 624; and a zitan table with aprons in the form of angular scrolls, published in Hu Desheng, A Treasury of Ming and Qing Dynasty Palace Furniture, Beijing, 2007, vol. I, pl. 209, together with two further zitan examples with floral carvings between the humpback stretchers and top, pls 253 and 257. See also a line drawing of a table of this type illustrated in Wang Shixiang, op.cit., vol. II, pl. B80.
The simianping construction, whereby the legs are set flush against the table top, allowed carpenters to create particularly elegant designs that considered some of the most attractive in Chinese furniture. This design is believed to derive from box-like platforms, and most likely emerged in the Song dynasty (960-1279).
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