China is amongst the oldest nations in the world, maintaining the same name for multiple millennia. This is just one testament of many to the enduring nature of Chinese culture and tradition. Throughout its long history, furniture craft has been an aspect of Chinese life that provides a glimpse into customs and stylistic elements that were heralded during different eras. Discover with us, dear reader, as we explore the past then bring it to life with the latest additions to our Rare Birds Collection – The China Gallery.
The Ming Dynasty in China is the period most recognized for the emergence of Chinese furniture aesthetics, lending to our modern understanding of Chinese style. This era emphasized furniture with simple, clean lines and minimal ornamentation. Woodworking in China has long been a celebrated craft, and thus furniture design sought to feature the grain of wood as a decorative element itself. Cabinets were popular because of their ability to showcase large panels of wood in their design. Instead of adding additional ornamental materials, great care was taken in the carving and manipulation of the wood to further embellish furniture.
Besides its role in creating aesthetic appeal, woodworking in China also represented important advancements in the engineering of furniture design. Form and function went hand in hand in the making of Chinese furniture, particularly due to the materials available in its construction. Many of the woods used were tropical, including sandalwood, rosewood, and ebony. These woods contained oils and resins that would make gluing difficult, so craftsmen developed complex methods of interlocking joinery to assemble pieces. This process resulted in pieces with seamless lines at connecting points, giving them impressive structural integrity against the wears of time.
The arrival of the Qing Dynasty marked an aesthetic shift in Chinese style. Furniture in this era maintained the functionality of the Ming Dynasty but celebrated much more ornate design. Ornamentation became extremely detailed, often in the form of motifs and carved lattice work. During this period Europe became increasingly fascinated with Chinese design, and elements of Chinese style began to find their way into western furniture pieces. This influence can still be seen today in genres of western period furniture – one example being the Chippendale chair.