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Pair of drum stools with lobed bodies

Early Qing dynasty, late 17th century


Height 16 1/2”, Depth 15”

Round, drum shaped stools are amongst the most pleasing forms of classical Chinese furniture. Circular frames, however, are difficult to execute with lineal wood members, and they become structurally vulnerable with time. Pictorial evidence from Ming literature such as the Xixiang ji (Story of the Western Wing) and the Jin Ping Mei (The Plum in the Golden Vase) suggests that drum stools were common in the homes and gardens of aristocratic China. However, remarkably few have survived. This rare pair represents a category of drum stools with lobed bodies of which only two other have been published. Precisely crafted from beautifully grained huanghuali, the lines and proportions of these sophisticated seats are remarkably refined and elegant.

“Barrel-form” or “drum stools” were being made in a variety of materials and design by Song. By that time, they had already become a popular choice for casual seating both indoors and outside. Termed either zuodun (sitting stool) or gudun (drum stool), barrel-form stools were also called xiudin (embroidered stool) after the practice of draping their seats with decorative embroidered panels. By Song round stool design inspired by the typical Chinese drum had evolved which incorporated carved bosses into the door simulating actual drum heads with stretched skin held in place by boss-head Nails. This style persisted into Qing and gave rise to the common descriptive term “drum stool” (gudan). An ancient technique that influenced hardwood stool design involved the use of bundled rush or cane to construct inexpensive seats. Drum shaped stools comprised of loops of cane tied together created circular opening in the body that were replicated in wooden, porcelain and even stone stools. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts owns a pair of porcelain drum stools that reflect this type of ancient cane construction, as well as example that references hardwood construction in its carved decoration simulating the type of boss-head nails with textile covers cited cbove.

Wang Shixiang divides barrel-form stools into those with circular opening, those with pierced ribs or slots and those, like the present example, with a lobed body. While appearing to be a solid mass, the melon-shaped form with it’s vertical lobes comprised of twenty separately carved uprights, imparts a remarkable sense of lightness to the design. This feeling is enhanced by the delicate, outward-turned feet that lift the form slightly from the floor.


A pair of lobed huanghuali drum stools, zuodun, with a flush floating panel tongue-and-grooved into the four part scarf-jointed frame. The twenty separate uprights are mortise-and-tenoned into the frame and curve downwards to a similarly constructed frame to the lower part with five bracket feet pegged to the bottom.