Rare Korean Split-bamboo Basketry Double-unit Chest


Yi Dynasty. Circa 1870                                                                                                                        Split-bamboo basketry on paulownia wood, yellow brass fittings; Kyang Ki Do Province          L. 35.5″, D. 17″, H. 56″  

The two units of this double-chest is housed in one single frame made of paulownia wood, known for withstanding moisture and temperature changes and is considered to have insect-repellent qualities.  The side panels are strengthened by cross bars.  It has a protruded top panel, a feature making it called in Korea a “jang”, a wardrobe made to store clothes and utensils in the men’s quarter of the house.

This chest has a row of four small drawers at the top.  Below this row, the chest has two stacked storage compartments, each with a pair of small doors in the middle.  With the top unit, the storage space behind the doors is quite big, concealed in front by the two-tiered woven bamboo panels beside the pair of doors and a row of bamboo panels below.  The bottom storage unit is similar in storage size as the top unit, but the extra space is concealed in front by three rows of bamboo panels instead of one below the pair of doors.

The metal fittings on this chest are all made of yellow brass.  The corners of each unit are fortified with metal corner braces, as is at each end of the line in the middle of the chest separating the two units.  The lock-plates and hinges on the doors have floriated edges.  Each door has flat corner braces.  This stacked chest sits on a stand with curvaceous lower edge and brass corner-braces, ending with shapely legs on side base-stretchers.

This chest is rare because few examples have survived since bamboo tended to crack, warp, and detach due to changes in temperature and humidity.  The choice of gluing the woven bamboo panels to temperate-stable paulownia wood no doubt helped this exquisite chest to survive.  One similar bamboo-basketry chest but with no protruding top known in Korea as a “nong” for women’s quarters, was shown in a Brooklyn Museum catalog published in the 1900s.  The bamboo panels on that chest were framed with plain slats and stretchers.  This present chest is more special as, according to a Korean Professor of Korean History and Antiquity, multi-molded framing around split-bamboo panels on furniture was done only on palace furniture of that period.  Thus, he certified this chest as a royal piece and as rare.