volume 1 number 2
Liangyi Museum, Hong Kong
The Liangyi Museum is the new home of the Liangyi Collection, an extensive collection of fine hardwood furniture from the Ming and Qing periods. Previously published in A Leisurely Pursuit: Splendid Hardwood Furnishings from the Liangyi Collection, the further expanded collection is now available for informal viewing and study. Visitation is by appointment. For further information, please contact:
1/F, Hong Kong Diamond Exchange Building
8-10 Duddell Street
According to historical reference material, huanghuali-like material has been used as a furniture-making wood since the Tang dynasty. The 'beds and tables' (chuang ji) of imported lu wood noted in Bencao Shiyi may be a specific or general reference, nonetheless, here we find early direct reference to furniture of imported hardwood. While no examples of Tang-period huanghuali furniture are known, it may well have resembled hardwood furniture of contemporary time preserved at the Imperial Treasury at Nara, Japan. The likelihood of objects dateable to the Song dynasty increases somewhat, when game-boards of huali were apparently in common use throughout the Indonesia and Indochina. Moreover, imported huanghuali had become common material for articles in Quanzhou, a southern hub of culture and international commerce during the Sung and Yuan dynasties....
A recent two-part article on zitan timber has been published in the Beijing-based art magazine Collectors (Shoucangjia) 2004:4-5. The author Zhou Mou is timber and botanical specialist, who has research Chinese hardwood furniture-making timber for several years. Zhou has analyzed old references and records, reviewed botanical approaches, examined the material of both antique and new furniture, and traveled throughout the Indochina region to visit local forestry specialists and investigate timber samples. After weighing connoisseurship and botanical viewpoints, he concludes that the only identifiable source for 'true zitan' (pterocarpus santalinus) is the mountainous coastal regions of southern and southwestern India, wherein the highest concentrations are still found in the state of Mysore.
True zitan, also known today as 'small leaf zitan', differs botanically from its step-brother, 'large leaf zitan' (dalbergia luovelii), which is more widely distributed throughout Indochina including regions of Africa and Madagascar, and which is more widely available in the present timber market. While basically similar in appearance and weight, subtle differences are here noted:
Small-leaf Zitan (Lat. pterocarpus santalinus) (Ch. tanxiang zitan)
light floral fragrance
ages to deep reddish-purple to purplish-black tonalities
small material with pithy center
Large-leaf Zitan (Lat. dalbergia luovelii) (Ch. lushi heihuangtan, hei suanzhi)
slight sour fragrance
ages toward purplish black to ebony-brown tonalities
material of larger, usable size
Zhou's efforts to penetrate the murky realm of zitan and to identify a true zitan species is a significant step, which moreover, points toward a traditional source in India that has likely been drawn upon for centuries. Such are the results and fine distinctions possible with modern botanical science. On the other hand, the age-old practice of timber merchants using less-than-precise intuitive methods to appraise the dark, heavy woods from distant tropical lands does not altar the fact that a wider latitude of material has for centuries been accepted and labeled 'zitan'. In order to come to terms with the irreconcilable gap between modern scientific approach and traditional connoisseurship, one can step aside the debate and appreciate what each has to offer.
Christie's New York will offer 30 some lots of huanghuali and zitan furniture in their upcoming fall sales scheduled for September 21 at Rockefeller Center. Objects of special note include a early style huanghuali daybed, a Yuanmingyuan style zitan luohan chuang, a magnificently carved huanghuali canopy bed, and a pair of zitan Wanli-style display cabinets.
Micellaneous Notes from the Yongzheng period (1723-1735) Imperial Workshops
On the 30th of the 10th lunar month, 1726, court eunuch Liu Yu transmitted the edict: “According to the square incense stand with removable legs sent by Prince Yi Zhen, make two additional stands with lacquered or [natural] wood; they must be refined and graceful.” On the 9th of the 5th lunar month, 1727, two zitan incense stands were made.
On the 17th of the 3rd lunar month, 1728, Yuanmingyuan archives record that three days earlier, an official had pointed out black and red lacquer table, and a red painted lamphanger chair. He decreed, 'According to the style and dimensions of these tables, make one table each of zitan and hongmu, and four tables of red lacquer. And according the style of the chair, make four of zitan and of eight red lacquer. The aprons and the stretchers can be altered if necessary.'
On the 19th of the 10th lunar month, 1729, Yuanmingyuan archives record the instructions, 'Make three pair of huali cabinets. Fit the center shelf with two rows of drawers, the upper shelf with one row of drawers, and the fit center shelf with a dividing panel. Submit a drawing for approval prior to construction.' On the, 5th of the following month, after the drawings were presented, additional instructions were given, 'Lower the height of the center drawers, use lacquer for the upper shelf, and then proceed accordingly to make three pairs of cabinets.' On the 9th of the 12th lunar month, three pair of huali cabinets were made, with dimensions of height 5.96 chi, width 3.6 chi, and depth 1.68 chi. They were each fit with baitong mounts with locks and keys and the interiors pasted with Hangzhou silk.
Miscellaneous Thought from Hong Yingming's Caigentan (c. 1600)
Virtue is the master of talent
Talent is the servant of virtue.
Talent without virtue is like
a house where there is no master
where the servants manage affairs.
How can there be no mischief?
Antique Furniture: Price and Quality
With a diminished supply from primary sources, quality objects have become increasingly harder to find and correspondingly more expensive. And as the local Chinese market continues to develop, so will the demand for quality works continue to increase. In the current set of circumstances, there is nowhere for prices of quality objects to go but up. When collecting, remember to focus on quality rather than price, and you will be a double winner: Not only will the objects you acquire provide long satisfaction, but your investment will also continue to mature.
Shanju Shanghai, an online source for fine antique Chinese furnishings for discriminating enthusiasts. The objects, which have been collected by Curtis Evarts during recent years in Asia, include a range of traditional antique furniture and other miscellaneous furnishings. A small selection is posted at www.chinese-furniture.com/shanju.html. Should you have specific interests, Shanju Shanghai also provides consultation and sourcing service.