Rare Korean Nobleman’s Double Dragons Low Desk


Circa 1880, Yi Dynasty; black lacquer, pear wood, mother-of-pearl, yellow brass, silk lining; certified.  30″w, 14″ d, 18.5″ h

In Korea, a double-dragon motif on furniture is very rare.  A five-clawed dragon motif was insignia for a king; a four-clawed one for a nobleman.  This low writing desk was made for a time when seating was done on mats or low platforms placed on a “ondol” (heated) floor.  A spectacular desk like this would be used by a gentleman seated on a mat to tend to his task.

This small desk is done with black lacquer over pear wood and elaborately inlaid with mother-of-pearl designs.  The lines and proportion of this desk has a monumental presence belying its small size.  The upturned ends of the top panel soar, echoing the eaves of the traditional Korean house.  Practically, it was designed to prevent scrolls from falling off the table.  On the desk front, the dragon’s scaly body is done with mother-of-pearl smoothly darkened to make them show solid strength and to contrast with the eyes of the dragon glittering with natural sparkling mother-of-pearl.  The yellow brass lock-plate and hinges in the shape of butterflies symbolize happiness and bliss.  The desk top panel has inlay of impressions of extended dragon’s tails of the same color as the scales of the body, set amid patches of glittering mother-of-pearl clouds floating among clouds outlined in yellow brass-wires signifying a wish for richness to rain down from heaven.  The inside of the desk is lined with silk.  The main body of the desk stands on a slightly extended curvilinear mother-of-pearl decorated stand, ending with short cabriole legs.

This desk was found after the Japanese Occupation on Kanghas Island, a prison colony for the Kingdom of Korea for two thousand years.  It was recovered by an American missionary doctor who was invited to go there to treat the sick and the dying.  He was allowed to take away any furniture the exiled took there as the ruling scholar /official class did not care for anything belonging to the prisoners.  For his humanitarian work, the doctor was honored with Korean citizenship.  He spent the rest of his life in Korea.  This desk was later passed on to a Korean Professor of Korean History and Antiquity who certified this desk as rare.