Important Chinese Art

Important Chinese Art

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 303. A 'zitan' and 'jichimu' display cabinet, 17th / 18th century | 十七 / 十八世紀 紫檀嵌鸂鶒木櫃格.

Property from a New York Private Collection

A 'zitan' and 'jichimu' display cabinet, 17th / 18th century | 十七 / 十八世紀 紫檀嵌鸂鶒木櫃格

Auction Closed

September 21, 06:54 PM GMT


150,000 - 250,000 USD

Lot Details


A 'zitan' and 'jichimu' display cabinet

17th / 18th century

十七 / 十八世紀 紫檀嵌鸂鶒木櫃格

Height 70½ in., 179.1 cm; Width 45 in., 114.3 cm; Depth 18¾ in., 47. 63 cm

Grace Wu Bruce Ltd., Hong Kong, late 1980s.


This type of cabinet with open shelves, known as Wanligui (Wanli period cabinets), is highly unusual. First appearing in the mid- to late Ming dynasty, they were generally kept in the scholar’s studio, where, often in pairs, they were arranged either side by side or on opposite walls, creating a visual symmetry sought after in Chinese interior design. The top shelves were used for storing books and scrolls, as well as treasured antiques, while writing implements, such as brushes and ink, were kept inside the drawers. The sturdier and enclosed lower sections were, on the other hand, used for storing more fragile objects or tea utensils that could be brought out in the presence of guests. Referred to as lianggegui by modern cabinet makers, this type of bookshelf seldom appears on contemporary woodblock printed books, attesting to its rarity.

The display and storage of books in the scholar’s studio was of great importance as it was indicative of the level of education and cultural refinement of the master of the house. The scholar Gao Lian (1573-1620) in his Zun sheng bajian [Eight discourses on the art of living], first published in 1591, mentions that bookcases "should be used for placing one's favorite books, which could be Confucian classics, poems, Buddhist scriptures, or for important medical literature and calligraphy". For Ming dynasty scholar Wen Zhenheng (1585-1645), it was important not to display too many books and scrolls "otherwise the room looks like a bookstore" (Wen Zhenheng, Chang wu zhi [Treaties on Superfluous Things], translated in the catalogue to the exhibition Beyond the Screen. Chinese Furniture of the 16th and 17th Centuries, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1996, p. 85).

The use of two valuable hardwoods on the present piece is noteworthy. The golden tones and lively grains of the jichimu panels are brilliantly enhanced and harmonized by the rich luminosity of the dark purples and browns of the zitan frame. The unfinished softwood forming the back panel and the top panel of the two-door storage section of the cabinet would have been covered by decorative panels, perhaps of painted lacquer. This cabinet shares similarities in form with a huanghuali cabinet fashioned with two open shelves from the Qing Court Collection and still in Beijing, illustrated in Wang Shixiang, Classic Chinese Furniture. Ming and Early Qing Dynasties, London, 1986, pl. 138.