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Table screen with decorative stone panel

Ming dynasty, late 16th – early 17th century

Huanghuali and serpentine

Height 25 1/2", Width 22 3/4", Depth 10 1/4"

Richly carved with a thick paneled frame, sloping aprons arched (dunzi) feet, and shaped spandrels, this is a miniature version of a large standing screen. Table screens featuring decorative stone panels were already prevalent during Tang and Song. The great Song literati, Mi Fu and Su Shi praised the abstract imagery of ornamental stone and throughout Ming and Qing scholars favored stone paneled “inkstone screens” (yan ping) for their library desks. With the chair-level mode of living, standing screens were produced in a variety of size for different uses. They could be imposing throne backdrops or small “pillow screens” (zhen ping) placed on daybeds to shield a sleeper from drafts, or no a writer’s desk to protect the wet inkstone from a drying breeze. Placed on a stand, they functioned as a purely decoration object or, perhaps, as  a backdrop to an exquisite flower arrangement.

The two feet of this stand are carved with drum-like circles (baugu) flanked by cloud scrolls. Between them are slanted aprons deeply carved with scrolling tendrils terminating in leafy spirals. There are also two moulded stretchers uniting the shoe feet and four shaped, standing spandrels supporting the upright posts. The frame is of panel construction with moulded rails inset with pierced panels representing begonia motifs. The central panel on the bottom is carved with a lotus blossom. The frame has indented corners on top resembling those in the large screen depicted in the well-known painting attributed to Du Jin in the National Palace Museum’s Enjoying Antiquities. The top rail is unusual in that, instead of using a mitre at the indented corner, a “pipe-joint” is employed requiring substantially more material to create the top rail section. According to Wang Shixian, this decoration follows the standard prescribed for screens in regulation books (zeli) of Qing, where it is termed Ruyitou baogu guhua zhanyu. The term described a combination of clouds scrolls, drum-like circles, circular flower heads and standing spandrels on a trestle base.

The highly figured rock is a composite of green and grey-green colors. Its marbleized patterns seem energized with the forces of nature from which it was extracted. Green marble lushi, generally termed nanyangsh after the district where it is quarried, is often used to describe this type of blue-green stone. Technically, it is not a marble but, a form of serpentine. The exuberant, convoluted patterns of this stone panel, pair well with the complex wooden structure with its vigorous carvings.