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Antique Qing cabinet with Western elements

THE furniture-making history in China dates back thousands of years. Especially in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the style, design and practical use of furniture was rapidly developed, reaching a peak in craftsmanship and aesthetic value.

The cabinet, an important piece of furniture in a Qing-era Chinese home, was used to store and display antiques and curios collected by the house owner. It often became an artistic exhibit in its own right. An antique cabinet, together with the items it held, was a measure of the owner's academic background and artistic taste.

A cabinet made in the middle of the Qing Dynasty is on display in the Shanghai Museum. Because of the influence of Western culture and art at the time, the cabinet displays strong Western elements.

For example, a phoenix carved under the top of the piece reflects a Western-styled furniture item's eagle carving. Small doors on the shelf made of patterned colored glass are reminiscent of a Western influence that is often seen in Catholic church windows.

A lot of traditional Chinese elements are also retained, however. The engravings all over the item are dragons (indicating imperial magnificence), bats ("bat" has the same pronunciation as "happiness" in Chinese) and bamboo ribs (symbolizing integrity).

The complicated patterns required meticulous and craftsmanlike engraving, and the various sized doors and drawers break with the rigid, stereotyped style found in many antique cabinets.

The piece was made of zitan, or red sandalwood, one of the most valuable woods used in furniture.

The color and quality of the wood enhances the furniture's elegance and magnificence, making it one of the most gorgeous and impressive exhibits among all those displayed in the museum.


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