Early 18th century, walnut, Shanxi. Expensive wood, beautiful openwork carvings, Buddhist motif relief carvings on side panel. 86.5″ L, 20″ W, 33.5″ H
Walnut has always been a valued wood in China, highly sought by the literati of the early periods for furniture-making. According to Wang Shixiang, Chinese antique furniture guru, early period walnut furniture sourced from the Shanxi region generally demonstrates refined workmanship and are extremely rare.
This long altar table is a good example of a piece with exceptional craftsmanship. It exhibits traditional mitered, mortise-and-tenon construction. The top has a floating panel. The legs are double-tenoned to the top. The openwork panel below the top is designed with angular scrollwork made up of myriads of small beveled pieces intricately fitted together. Amid this scrollwork are carvings of scrolling leaves, with a stylized “long life” symbol in the middle. The double stretchers below the openwork panel are molded like bamboo, a technique emerged during late Ming period.
Below the bamboo-like stretchers is an apron with openwork carving of a scrolling floral design at each corner. The legs are made from bamboo-design moldings. Between the legs at each end is a solid panel showing low relief carvings of Buddhist symbols. The stylized “ruyi” means “granting all wishes”.
This outstanding labor-intensive table must have belonged to someone of the elite scholar/official class. It would serve as an altar table, supporting ancestral portraits for worship, flower urns, incense burners and offerings of food and drinks. It was originally painted with a dark tree-lacquer, some of which bled through at the top at some places in an oily patch; otherwise this table is in excellent condition.