Rare Early Qing Walnut Altar Table with Carved Buddhist Symbols

Early 18th C; Shanxi.  Walnut wood, beautiful openwork carvings, Buddhist-motif relief carvings on side panels.  86.5″ L, 20″ W, 33.5″ H

Walnut is a highly valued wood in China.  According to Chinese antique furniture guru Wang Shixiang, early period walnut furniture sourced from the Shanxi region generally demonstrates refined workmanship, resulting in furniture of high quality, so they are extremely rare.  This altar table exhibits the refined craftsmanship the guru referred to.  It shows the distinguishing reddish-brown, almost purplish color of the best quality walnut from northern China.  This is a rare piece of furniture to come out of China.

Side Panel and Tenon Detail.  
See Apron Detail

The table exhibits traditional mitered, mortise-and-tenon construction.  The top has a floating panel.  The legs are double-tenoned to the top.  The front panel is designed with open angular scrollwork consisting of myriads of beveled slat pieces artistically tenoned together.  Amid this scrollwork are carvings of scrolling leaves, with a stylized “long life” symbol in the middle.  The double stretchers below the openwork panel are molded like bamboo, a technique emerged during the late Ming Dynasty.  Below the bamboo stretchers is an apron with openwork carving of a scrolling floral design at each corner.  The legs are made of bamboo-design moldings.  Between the legs at each end is a solid panel showing low relief carvings of Buddhist symbols.  The stylized “ruyi” means “granting all wishes”.  An altar table this elegant no doubt belonged to a family of high status.

This altar table was found in Shanxi and brought to Beijing in the 1990s by a Chinese antiques expert trained by an old master of furniture-making from Shanxi.  When found, the dark tree lacquer applied to the top panel has formed oily patches from weathering while stored in warehouses during conflicts in China.  They are left as-is, which help to show the table has lived and is an authentic piece of antique.  The table has not gone through any restoration.