Known as quanyi ('circular chair') or yuanyi ('round chair'), horseshoe-back chairs derive from chairs made of pliable lengths of bamboo, bent into a 'U'-shape and bound together using natural fibres. These chairs display the ingenuity of Ming dynasty cabinet makers, who were able to create a hardwood version by developing complicated joinery techniques. In order to create the continuous back, members were fitted together with a cut-out to accommodate a tapered wood pin that would lock them firmly in place when inserted. The complexity of the design required exacting craftsmanship as a slight error in the tilt of any of the joins would be magnified by the adjoining members. Once the lacquered coat was applied to the surface crest rail, the underlying joinery was not visible and virtually impossible to wrest apart.
Horseshoe-back armchairs carved with this geometric design on the apron are unusual; a pair in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, is illustrated in Robert D. Jacobsen, Classical Chinese Furniture, Minneapolis, 1999, pl. 12; another pair was sold in our New York rooms, 22nd March 1995, lot 431; and a single chair from the collection of John and Celeste Fleming, illustrated in Grace Wu, Ming Furniture, Hong Kong 1995, pl. 17, was sold at Bonhams New York, 12th September 2016, lot 6005.
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