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Ming Dynasty Furniture

The antique furniture of China was in its peak time during the Ming Dynasty. The stable society ensured the well development in agriculture and handicraft industry. In the late Min Dynasty, the rich commodities and multi-way trade routes offered a good condition for furniture making industry. During this time, Yangtze River southern areas and Southern Sea regions gradually became the leading places to making elaborate China style furniture.

Background of Ming Dynasty Furniture
With frequent economic and cultural exchange with foreign countries, and imports of precious timber from Southeast Asia, a large number of palaces, residential buildings, and gardens were built on an unbridled scale in Ming Dynasty. Meanwhile, many scientific and technical books on cabinet-making came into being, such as 'Lu Ban Jing', 'Xiu shi Lu' (Decoration Record), 'Zun Sheng Ba Jian (The eight letters of Zun Sheng), and San Cai Tu Hui (Pictorial Collection of three Talents). All of this helped the development of Ming furniture or reach an unparalleled level. The achievements of its modeling art, manufacturing techniques, and functional standards took on a distinctive style and gained important place among the furniture of the world.

Chinese Ming Dynasty Furniture

Characters of Ming Dynasty Furniture

Ming Dynasty furniture was rich in varieties and styles which can be detected from the paintings and woodcuts in the existing Ming furniture. It can be divided by function into six categories: stools and chairs; tables and desks; cabinets and chests; beds and couches; platforms and racks; and screens.

At this time, the concept of furniture sets was formed, and complete sets of furniture appeared in hall, bedroom, and study, divided by the function of each space. They were usually arranged symmetrically, for instance one table with two chairs or four stools. Sometimes furniture was arranged freely in accordance with two chairs of four stools.

Materials used for Ming Dynasty Furniture

The timber used in Ming Dynasty furniture was of tough quality, high strength, beautiful color and fine grain. The woods used including
► Huanghuali or yellow flowering pear 黄花梨木 (D. odorifern T. chel), a member of the rosewood family
► Red sandalwood 紫檀木 (Pterocarpus santalinus)
► Siam or Thailand rosewood 酸枝木 (Dalbergia cochinchinensis)
► Ceylon ebony乌木 (Diospyros ebenum)
► Kassod 鸡翅木 (Senna Siamea - earlier known as Cassia Siamea)

All but the last became rare by the late Qing Dynasty and are in limited supply today. Siamea is a fast growing tree and is being promoted as an ecological solution in many hot dry areas around the world. All of these are hardwoods and often have great color and figure.

This contributed to the production of extremely precise, scientific tenon structures. The parts were small but of high strength; the shape was simple but could be carved and processed ornately. The frame structure developed in the Song Dynasty advanced to quit a high artistic level in the Ming Dynasty, and this structure, combined with creative new styles and ornaments on the accessory parts, gave Ming furniture a pure and simple, but elegant and delicate style, unique in its complementary use of the hard and the soft.

Influence of Ming Dynasty Furniture

Both Ming and Qing furniture had a strong influence on English and French furniture, notably through Chippendale and Hepplewhite in the 18th century. Furniture moved from the heavy, almost bulbous, examples of the William and Mary period to furniture that was light and airy. The chairs, in particular, benefited from the Chinese influence both in technique and design.

Carving Art of Ming Dynasty Furniture

Ming Dynasty furniture collects the advantages of previous dynasties. The contents of carving on Ming Dynasty furniture are various, including landscape, people, and animals, etc. The animal carvings have obvious characteristics of South and North Dynasty, which are magnificent; flower carvings inherited the style of Tang Dynasty, demonstrating pursuit for luxury; landscape carvings are full of plot and story pictures.