Ca 1870; pear wood and chestnut for front and sides, elm as secondary wood, carved metalwork with significant motifs; Cheon Chu City, Cheon Ra Buk Do Province. 34″ L, 12.75″ D, 40″ H.
Cheon Chu City is known in Korea for having high quality antique furniture as it was where scholars congregated to prepare to take an open Imperial Examination, the passing of which guaranteed upward mobility. This elite class of people could afford to furnish their estates with quality furniture.
This chest is unique in style and valuable for the wood used and the thick metalwork with significant Taoist motifs. Its sides are made of chestnut and the front panels of pear wood. Both are hardwood, sturdy, relatively crack resistant, and have fine grains, although pear wood has even finer texture. The grain figure on the pear wood used on the panels is very unusual. It is not clearly defined but shows a swirling burl-like pattern that gives the chest an arresting polished look, making it a beautiful foil for showing the distinctive metalwork decorating it.
This chest is unique in that it shows two distinct parts but both share the same side panels as one unit. The top part is a chest with a pair of doors in the middle opening outward, and the bottom part a bandaji (clothing chest) with a half-door opening downward, with a pair of outside drawers at the bottom. The upper chest is for storing scholarly items such as books and manuscripts, and the lower part for clothing. The two bottom drawers are for storing small personal items. A combination of book chest and clothing chest is apt for a scholar away from home waiting for government appointments.
The metalwork on this chest is made of thick iron, a metal preferred by Confucius-era scholars for its unpretentiousness and quiet strength The lock-plate on the bookchest is round and plain, and that on the clothing part is rectangular and carved with Taoist “baguo” trigrams of Yi Jing(I Ching), and the Buddhist “swastika” (eternal) symbol within a circle. In Taoism, these are symbols of heaven and earth. A Chinese “Fu” (good fortune) motif is shown between two trigrams at the bottom of the plate. The rectangular plate has a narrow part attached to the bottom framework of the book chest, and the main part attached to the top part of the half-door of the bandaji. The Bandaji is closed by a tongue-fastener coming from the top metal plate to engage with two loops on the main plate where a lock can be inserted. The drop-leaf door has a small round hinge in the middle and two swallow-shape hinges on either side. Below the round hinge is metalwork design of the Taoist “t’aeguk” symbol, derived from the Chinese yin-yang, with Taoist concept of eternal motion, that ‘change’ itself is unchangeable. Iron dove-tailing secure the framework to the side panels, and nail pegs are covered by floral nail covers.
This chest was shown at The Arts of Pacific Asia Show in San Francisco in 2004. It was admired by experts for its uniqueness. It is certified in Korea by a certifier approved by the government in the 1900s.