Timeless Arts - Chinese Antique Furniture

Chinese furniture history was evolved independently from the rest of the world having unique full range of style and sophisticated craftsmanship.  Some classic form of Chinese furniture can be traced back to 2500 years ago, such as “altar table” originally designed to hold musical instruments.  During early time period, Chinese furniture was designed in favor for people’s life style of sitting on the floor mat.  Therefore, tables and are short in height. Furniture style experienced a major change to raise their height during Tang dynasty (907AD) as social elite started to elevate their power and position.  Rise of the chair height gives legs more room to hang and functionally improves comfort level of the furniture.  New style was fully rolled out during Song dynasty (till ~1200AD) in new forms such as tables, cabinets and bookcases etc.  Some distinguishing characteristics were developed including functional categories, advanced mortise and Tenon techniques, developed Chinese lacquer techniques, woodcarving and other decoration craftsmanship.                                                       

Chinese ancient furniture reached its peak in Ming dynasty till early Qing (1522-1735), widely recognized as “Ming style”.  Early Ming had great social development, prosperous in full aspects of economy, technology, literature and arts.  Wealthy people built larger mansions that need more furniture to fill.  Great designers and fine craftsmen appeared to meet the demand.  With support of collectors, scholars and elites, artisans developed and pushed Ming style to an unprecedented height in arts and quality.  Ming style was treasured for proportional balance, exquisite craftsmanship, simple but comfortable design and natural wood beauty display.  Although it was initiated from JiangSu province, the wealthiest central region, Ming style soon became popular across the country.                                        

Ming furniture can be categorized into classic five types based on functions:  seating, tables, sleeping, storage and decorative.  A couple of iconic characteristics include horseshoe-back legs, clean lines, minimal decorations, precious wood natural grains, simple but highly effective joinery and super balanced in proportion.  They together make Ming furniture beautiful object and highly functional.                                     

Follow Ming was Qing dynasty when furniture design moved from simplicity to complicity especially reflected in late Qing designs on decorations and structural shapes.  Busy and redundant woodcarving and extra curves were seen replacing the calmness and gorgeousness of Ming style.  Qing style, even though highly developed in craftsmanship, was widely considered deteriorated artistically from Ming style.