Exceptional Korean Two-unit Stacked Wedding Chest with Fitted Slats Construction

Circa 1870, Yi Dynasty; found on Kangwha Island
Paulownia wood base, pear wood slats, persimmon wood Chinese Characters, iron fittings, oil finish
H. 51”, L. 36”, D. 14”

This stacked chest is crafted all over the front, sides, and top with pear wood slats fitted and glued into patterns over possibly a paulownia wood base. It represents a genre of Korean furniture that is very hard to reproduce today as it is very labor-intensive and expensive to attempt to do, especially on a big double chest like this one.

This exceptional stacked chest was made as a wedding present for a couple from an upper-class family, most likely members of the wealthy Yangban (landed aristocracy) class. The top unit has a row of four drawers at the top pulled open by double-hook handles. Below the drawers bis a big storage unite with extended space with the front camouflaged by two rows of narrow panels separated by struts. The bottom unit is made the same way as the top except the row of drawers is replaced by a row of panels fronting extra space for the compartment below. The “Double Happiness” Chinese characters are made of the dark part of the two-toned persimmon wood. This cut-out makes the craftwork even more labor-intensive. Each Chinese character is framed by a dark slat frame. There are six characters on the front panels of each chest: Two on the pair of doors in the middle of the chest, and a stacked pair at each side of the pair of doors. The simple round lock-plate and door hinges are made of iron, as are the four corner braces on each chest.

This is a sumptuous chest as the expensive and labor-intensive fitting and gluing work is done also on the sides and top of each chest. The stacked chest sits on two simple boards to lift it from the heated “ondol” floor upper-class families built into their homes.

The chest was found after the Japanese Occupation on Kangwha Island, a political prison colony for the Kingdom of Korea for two thousand years. It was recovered by an American missionary doctor who was invited by the government 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 class did not care for furniture. For his humanitarian work, the doctor was honored with Korean citizenship. The chest was later passed on to a Korean Professor of Korean History and Antiquity, who certified this chest as rare.