16th/17th C, Sophora, Shanxi. Considered “honorific seat”; of extinct wood, elegantly styled; aged but fit in contemporary setting. 15½” h. 69” w. 28½” d
In China, as far back as Tang and Song Dynasties, low platforms were recorded to be used as honorific seats. Scholarly gentlemen would relax on them on woven mats, sometimes leaning on a pillow form to listen to music, or sit on it and read classics, or examine works of calligraphy or paintings, or display their collection of ancient bronze vessels, or simply enjoy some food and drinks.
This platform bed is constructed in the traditional classical style. The wide top is comprised of two thick planks fitted snugly together, enhanced and strengthened near each end by a row of big boss-head nails. The thick plank has a convex half-round edge with beading at the lower edge. This top juxtaposed a double waist, with the top section showing a protruding double-incense stick molding, while the lower narrow section is plain and recessed. From this waisted section, the all-around apron arches slightly outward, with the lower edge ending in a lively, curvilinear line with a cusp in the middle. It then flows smoothly into very short cabriole legs terminating in graceful “praying mantis” feet resting on round pads. All these features together present a most elegant profile.
This platform bed is quite rare, not only because of its age but also because of its building material. The Sophora is a tree native to China. Due to its extreme slow growth, the wood is very dense; since it also resists moisture and insect damage, it was the wood of choice for furniture construction during the Yuan and Ming dynasties. Its constant use, however, caused its demise by the end of the Ming period. So, furniture made of Sophora is commonly attributed to that early era. This tree also has historical significance as according to the publication, “Imperial Peking: Seven Centuries of China”, by Lin Yutang, the last Ming Emperor, Tsungcheng, hanged himself on a Sophora tree in palace ground in 1643, when he realized he was about to lose his kingdom.
This platform bed is all-original and has retained its thick dark lacquer. It survived in excellent condition no doubt due to its dense construction material. It is also note-worthy that this wood, once cut for construction, might cracks slightly at first but then never warps, important for a piece of furniture that might need to be moved around. There is no “coffee table” in China. Today, this elegant platform would make a beautiful coffee table, and when paired off with a pair of sleek-looking leather chairs, would give a room a magnificent contemporary look.