Tibetan Red/Green gilded chest (Tenchog)

18th/19th c, pine, mineral pigments, gilding.
38.5”L x 18”D x 36”H

A “tenchog” is a chest for storing religious items such as incense and other offerings, ritual vessels, scriptures and books.  Its surface can be used as an altar table upon which deity statues can be placed.  If the chest is a simple one in a lama’s private room or in the home of a family of modest means, part of the interior would be used for general storage.  One with so much ornate decoration and gilding would likely be in a lama’s private dwelling or the prayer room of a prestigious person.

In Tibet, deep colors like red, green, yellow and blue were the colors used for decorating furniture before the late 19th century.  This chest has main frame members painted in red and all recessed drawer front panels and side panels with a green background.  All frame members are painted with gilded floriated designs.  The top is made with a thick plank which hangs over a wide band with beading on the top and the bottom edges and a frieze of gilded deep-carved wandering-clouds  design, a motif meaning a wish for blessings from above.  This decorative band continues around the corners to the sides.

Below this decorative top are three drawers on the top row and two storage compartments with pivotal doors below.  All the panels and doors are constructed in the floating-panel technique, similar in basic design to a picture frame.  The convoluted layers are in red and green recessed within gilded borders and rest on a green ground with floriated decorations.  A loop of leather acts as drawer and door pull, in keeping with Tibetan’s nomadic past.

The sides of this chest are all made of panels colored with red and green mineral colors with gilded floriated designs.  An apron in red is recessed below the two storage compartments and set between the angular patterned feet of the chest frame members.  This apron has carvings of stylized wandering-clouds design at its beaded bottom edge.  This “tenchog” survived in excellent condition, with its vivid colors intact due to the use of natural mineral pigments.   Original Tibetan chests are quite rare in the world today as many were destroyed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and since then Tibet has banned its antiques from leaving the country.  Many reproductions were made for the tourist market, with very different value.

Price: $12,000