Cheon Chu Bandaji (Blanket Chest)
Yi Dynasty, circa 1870
Elm wood, iron fittings
Cheon Chu City, Korea
33½” h. 40¾” w. 19” d.
This chest was made for a scholar of the elite class because of the two narrow drawers at the top, for him to hold small personal or writing items. It has thick hand-carved ironwork with Buddhist symbols. Iron was preferred by Confucius-time scholars for its quiet strength, and the simple form without too much unnecessary decorations is favored for its dignity and grace. The thick metal gives the design a feeling of “sculptured bodies” and projects a “sense” of material the Korean craftsmen of yore are so famous for. The chest rests on a raised base with short inward curving legs attached to side foot stretchers
It is worthwhile to know that in Yi period, Cheon Chu City was where the land-owning Yangban class gathered to prepare to take an open Imperial Examination, the passing of which guaranteed upward mobility. This class could afford to commission high quality furniture for their elegant homes.
This chest is certified by a Professor of Korean History and Antiquity who was responsible for many antique pieces placed in museums.
North Korean Bandaji (Blanket Chest)
Yi Dynasty. Ca 1870
Chestnut wood with iron fittings
24¼” h. 30” w. 15¼” d.
Made in what is now North Korea, this chest was taken from the north to south as a result of the Korean War. It is a fine example of an authentic North Korean antique chest, a piece very hard to find today.
The ironwork on this chest is unusually thick, and the openwork designs very finely wrought. Various auspicious motifs are exhibited on the ironwork. The lock, in the shape of an elephant trunk, is mounted on a round, heavily hand-wrought openwork lock-plate with interlocking curves and angular patterns. This round plate represents a Taoist design symbolizing heaven and earth. The butterfly motif pull-plates with the swastika design in the middle signify harmony and long life. This butterfly motif, with a stylized Chinese ‘long life” symbol in the middle, is shown on the top part of a middle hinge to a drop-leaf door. On either side of this hinge is an elongated vertical openwork metal hinge in a design very typical of hinges on North Korean chests. The big half-round iron- pull attached to bat-design plates towards the bottom of the chest signifies good fortune and happiness. All these symbolic designs are scattered throughout the front of the chest.
This chest, with such intricately hand-wrought openwork designs, illustrates what beautiful work North Korean furniture craftsmen could produce.