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 minimalistic 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 textured-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 Ming antique is valuable as China does not allow aged relics to leave the country any more. This simple-looking table with characteristics of extinct Sophora wood is now a rare item.
(An identically styled altar table with same size and color wood was shown in a museum but said it is made of huanghuali wood, a wood with smooth wood-grains imported to China Mainland from Hainan Island, lauded today as a valuable wood but probably not as important historically as a wood favored by early age literati and already extinct by end of the Ming Dynasty).