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A light on history and an elegant art form

CHINESE antique floor lamps involve many ancient Chinese art forms and carving techniques. Collector Nie Renjie's pair of Dragon's Head Lamps were made in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and are something very special. Nie Xin enlightens.

Antiques collector Nie Renjies favorite pair of floor lamps are something special indeed. Standing 1.75 meters high, with dragon patterns, the redwood "Dragon's Heads" are one of the most beautiful examples of this style of antique Chinese lamps.

Nie started collecting antique furniture 30 years ago. Beds, tables, chairs, screens, clocks, tobacco bags and a variety of small objets d'art - the 55-year-old collector is interested in every kind of antiques.

Chinese antique floor lamps involve many ancient Chinese art forms and carving techniques.

This pair of Dragon's Head Lamps were made in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Nie bought them seven years ago from a friend, a cosmetic surgeon.

"They were a precious gift from his grandfather's generation," Nie recalls. "I liked them so much when I first saw them that I immediately begged him to sell them to me."

Nie bought the lamps from the doctor for 400,000 yuan (US$58,539).

"Now they are worth much more. The market price today is at least 1 million yuan," says Nie.

However, that's not the important thing for Nie. What he is interested in is the artistic value of the lamps.

Chinese antique floor lamps usually consist of an ornate base and a shade. The light shades are made of special paper illustrated with pictures of scenery, figures, flowers or birds, and sometimes poetry.

In ancient China, the delicately sculptured floor lamps were placed in the living rooms to decorate the house and proclaim the wealth of the family especially of high officials and the nobility.

The base is usually made of redwood or other precious Chinese woods like huali (palisander wood). The decoration of the base may include stone and ivory.

Luxurious carvings

The most traditional style of the floor lamps is the longmen luodi deng (dragon door floor lamp). The base is a simple wooden frame about 70 centimeters by 50 centimeters. On the top of the base are two small dragon heads. The lantern shades are hung from the heads.

The style of the floor lamps became more complex with luxurious carvings from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), especially during the Qing Dynasty. Traditional Chinese symbols and patterns began to show up in the bases and they grew bigger. Many of the best antique floor lamps were made in this period.

Each of Nie's dragon's head lamps has a dragon shaped column that rises elegantly from the base to present the heads from which the lamp properly hangs.

The lanterns hang from the dragons' open mouths. Traditional images of figures and flowers are painted on the shade.

Another important clue to the real value of a good antique lamp lies with the base.

On the bottom of the lamp's base, there are carved feet supporting the base.

"The number of feet depends on the style, three, four or five. The bottom should be heavy and large and many have a round plate above the feet," Nie says.

Nie's lamp has five feet. Each is shaped like a mythical animal with a lion's head and a tiger's feet, facing outwards.

This kind of style can also be found in some Chinese antique beds, tables and chairs.

"Shi tou hu jiao (lion's head and tiger's feet) is a symbol of royalty and power in ancient China," says Nie.

For anyone interested in collecting antique Chinese lamps, it is better to collect a pair and not one on its own.

In ancient China, floor lamps were generally made in pairs to match Chinese traditions and bring luck and reunion. The value of a matching pair will always be higher than two different lamps.


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