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Pair of square stools

Ming, early Qing dynasty, 17th century


Height 20 1/4”, Width 25 1/8”, Depth 25 1/8”

The design of these large square stools was inspired by bamboo furniture. One of the centers for the manufacture of luxury bamboo furniture during Ming was Suzhou, a region equally well known for its production of hardwood furniture. As technical and aesthetic interchanges took place between those two industries, certain stylistic features inherent in bamboo construction entered the vocabulary of hardwood craftsmen. Imitating  bamboo, the rounded sections of these stools, for instance, required more time to produce than would square sectioned stock. The round corners of the seat frames and leg-encircling stretchers that  appear to wrap around each leg are likewise a direct reference to the construction techniques used in bamboo furniture in which a single length of bamboo would have been bent and wrapped around all four legs with the aid of steam or heat. This form of construction which is neither a waisted (corner leg) nor unwaisted (recessed leg) system is strong and versatile. Form the seventeenth century on, it was used effectively in the construction of stools, square tables, day beds and lohan chuang.

Formally in the T.T.Tsui collection, Hong Kong, these examples are larger than most square stools. At twenty-five inches square, they are large enough to sit on cross-legged and have been called “meditation stools”. This term is misleading, however, as most meditation platforms are wider than these and it may be more appropriate to see them simply as grand examples of a standard, albeit refined and elegant, design. Between the humpback  stretchers and double-cushion seat frame on all four sides are double-ring motifs acting as braces. These interlocked circles are auspicious symbols for permanence and longevity and if read as double-coins, they represent wealth and prosperity. It is a motif often encountered in bamboo inspired furniture.


A pair of square huanghuali round leg stools, fangdeng, of a design derivative of bamboo manufacture. The typical mitred, mortise-and-tenon frame top of each stool has a gently curving outside edge with tenons exposed on two sides with a moulding to the upper edge, worn in places, over a butt-jointed separate lower frame of slightly smaller convex section, mitred at the corners as if “wrapping around” the legs. The frame is drilled for soft seat construction with two curved tielimu transverse stretchers tenoned and half-lapped into the rails. The round section legs are double lock mortise and tenoned into the frame and splay slightly in both elevations. There are joined by a high humpback stretcher, convex to the outer surface flattened to the inside, mitred at the corners and “wrapped around” the legs with two carved interlocking ‘cash’ motifs to each side, tenoned into the underside of the upper stretcher and into the top side of the humpback stretcher.