Dalva Brothers Antiques, Antique Furniture, New York

French 18th century furniture, clocks, lighting, paintings, porcelain, sculpture and tapestries


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Pair Ming Dynasty mother-of-pearl compound cabinets
Magnificent pair of Chinese Lo-tien lacquer compound cabinets with superb mother-of-pearl inlays. Each upper door is superbly decorated with a beautifully composed mother-of-pearl depiction of an ink painting portraying one of the plants known as “The Four Gentlemen” or the “Four Friends”. The Four Gentlemen have been a mainstay of Chinese painting since the Song Dynasty. Somewhat analogous to the “Four Seasons” in western art, Asians also saw the plants as reflecting the desirable human virtues of the Confucian “gentleman”, the junzi. The bottom doors are inlaid with corresponding heptasyllabic couplets in four differing styles of calligraphy. The four styles of Chinese calligraphy are seal script, clerical script, running or semi-cursive script and regular script. (There is another, extremely cursive form called grass script.) There are unidentified round and square “seals” on the calligraphy panels, possibly those of a painter (the square seals) and those of a collector (the round seals, which are all identical). The sides are in a plain lacquer strewn with small pieces of mother-of-pearl.
The joining of images, calligraphy and poetry is the essence of Chinese “literati” painting. The cabinets must have been an important commission by a Ming Dynasty scholar. [One round and one square seal replaced (both under the bamboo panel). Two locking rods replaced. One spandrel replaced (under the bamboo panel). Small repairs to lacquer.]
Cabinet #1:
Bamboo (summer) [Bottom left door, in seal style]
Before emerging from the earth, they already have joints,
Shooting up to the clouds, they are hollow in the middle.
Couplet by an unidentified Tang Dynasty poet, quoted by Wu Zhen (1280-1354)

Chrysanthemum (autumn) [Bottom right door, in clerical script]
Do not despise this old gardener’s tranquil autumn face,
See instead the yellow flowers, fragrant in the late season.
Couplet from a poem by Han Qi (1008-1075)

Cabinet #2:

Orchids (spring) [Bottom left door, in running script]
A pure wind from an empty valley, the fair one is far away,
Like a vaporous mist, companion of the morning clouds.
Couplet from an unidentified author

Plum blossoms (winter) [Bottom right door, in regular script]
Their simple scent below the trees excels all others,
Branch tips of plentiful buds in pretty clustered bunches.
Couplet from a poem by Liu Kezhuang (1187-1269)

Ex Collection: Ambassador and Mrs. Larz Anderson

Height (ins.): 77.5 (197 cm)      Length/Width (ins.): 34 (43.2 cm)      Depth (ins.): 17 (86.5 cm)
Origin: China, 17th century     Period: Ming Dynasty



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