Ming Altar Table with Heavenly Stallions Carvings

15th c; Sophora (Huai) framework, cypress and miscellaneous wood side panels; rare “Heavenly Stallions” carvings;  Shanxi.
36” h x 51” w x 17” d

Condition of the table when found

This table is special due to its age and because it is made of an extinct wood, the Sophora.  This wood  is very dense due to the tree’s extreme slow growth; since it also naturally resists moisture and insect damage, it was the wood of choice as furniture building material during the Yuan and Ming dynasties.  Its over-use caused the demise of this wood by the end of the Ming period.

The top of this table is made of a single plank of Sophora.  It has molded everted ends showing hand-hammered boss-head nails, which are also found on the frame of the drawers front.  The two drawer front panels have deep relief carvings of the mythical Heavenly Stallions galloping across waves and through clouds.  The three panels below have openwork carvings of floral and flourishing leafage motifs.  These motifs have a distinctive provincial flavor reflecting the culture of the northern nomadic minorities which populated China during the Yuan dynasty and influence artwork during the early Ming period.  These nomads were used to things in nature like flowers and grass, birds and small animals, and often used them as motifs.  They also have a special relationship with their horses as they roam the land for grass and water to nourish their herds, or at war.  “Heavenly Stallions”, however, are rarely seen as a decorative motif on furniture.

The drawer fronts retain original hasp plates that can secure the drawers by attaching the hasps to rings on the frame member below the drawers.  The locks are missing.  The front legs of this table are molded and are tenoned through to the table top.  The front spandrels have carvings of flourishing leafage motif.  The back legs and small spandrels are plain.  The lower part of the back legs have been replaced due to severe rotting from sitting on muddy floors of warehouses.  The sides have two stretchers spanning the legs.

The piece was found with a greyish worn patina of old age and neglect. The luster of the wood was restored after the piece was cleaned and polished with an application of the natural “lac” from the lacquer trees that flourished in Shanxi.  The lac not only restored the luster of the wood, it also helps to preserve the wood.

Price: Price on request