Ming Altar Table in Minimalism Style

16th/17th C, Sophora (Huai), Shanxi.  Shallow everted ends on top and round legs show Ming classical style,
31” h. 55” w. 14” d.

This recessed-leg table displays classic minimalism style characteristic of Ming Dynasty.  It is constructed in the traditional mortis-and-tenon method.  The top is made of one solid plank, with low everted flanges capping the ends.  The wood on this plank has a very distinctive tangential deep grain pattern characteristic of the Sophora, a tree extinct by the end of the Ming period due to its extreme slow growth and over-used as furniture-building material.  This texture-look gives character to the table and needs no ornate decoration.  The legs as well as the side stretchers are round, typical of table legs constructed in the Ming period.  The spandrels are very simply designed.

Another characteristic of Ming furniture is the appearance of hand-hammered boss-head nails.  They served more to show off value than for connecting joints as metal was expensive at that period.  This kind of nails appeared as far back as Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) but seldom after early Qing.  By mid-Qing, more elaborate carvings and decorations were desired by the rising merchant class.  So, these hand-hammered nails came to indicate the age of an item.

This altar table has characteristics favored by Ming literati, who were influenced by Confucius philosophy to live simply and to reduce artifice to a minimum.  Dignity, simplicity of structure, and balance was the ideal of the day.  Too much carving and elaborate decorations were considered vulgar.  Today, any good authentic antique from China is valuable as China does not allow relics to leave the country.  This simple-looking table with Ming furniture characteristics and made of an extinct wood deserves a place in a museum.  As a matter of fact, one looking quite similar, of same size, grain pattern, and coloring was shown in a museum but is described as of huanghuali wood which no doubt makes it a more valuable collector’s item, but the less well-known Sophora has perhaps better historical value.