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Pair of recessed-leg rectangular stools

Ming, early Qing dynasty, 17th century


Height 20”, Width 19”, Depth 15”

Sturdily constructed and versatile, recessed-leg stools with splayed legs are one of the basic categories of Ming period seating furniture. Although pictorial sources show that stools were the most frequently used seats, especially for women, they have not survived in great numbers. Within the hierarchy of seating furniture, stools occupied a relatively low position and social status was reflected in who used the tall armchairs versus those who sat on side chairs, stools or benches. Stools were considered comfortable however, and they were produced in hundreds of configurations that ranged from rather small, simple frames to larger, ornately carved versions.

These stools are distinguished by their decorations which may be unique. Although the structural form here is common, the use of a “clustered leg” which simulates wrapped bamboo construction is seldom seen in stools. The effect of bundled bamboo on the legs is carried into the molded humpback stretchers and the aprons are elegantly carved with a continuous edge bead. The short aprons are further embellished with q tongue motif to the shaped ear. Though not elaborate, the decorative carving of these stools lends a great deal of interest to the surface without interrupting the structural integrity of the form.

The stools are not a matched pair. Their dimensions vary slightly and one has been partially built of reused timber while the other appears free of restoration. Evidence of replacement and repair is not uncommon in furniture this age, and although they have remained together a considerable while, these stools may have been made by the same workshop at slightly different times.


Two rectangular stools of typical mitred, mortise-and –tenon frame construction top with concealed tenons. The outside edge of the frame is of strong convex shape with a double moulding to the lower edge. On stool, the frame is drilled for soft seat construction now with a hard matting seat with two filled transverse curved stretchers. The mitred and interlocking half-lapped short aprons have a strong moulding to the lower edge and a tongue motif to the shaped ear. The rounded legs of complex moulded section are double lock mortise-and-tenoned into the top. These are joined by humpback stretchers of double cushion section to the top and sides, flattened to the lower edge. These stretchers are made of reused timber. Stool  is of virtually identical design although not made of reused timber.