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The History of Chinese Furniture

The Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 A.D)

During the mid Ming dynasty period (1368-1644 A.D.), a class of Chinese citizens arose known as Shi Da Fu. These were mainly intellectuals with interest in the new and unique and intrigued by the West. They came to prefer furniture and décor with clean lines and functional design. The surviving furniture of the Ming period is strikingly modern in its simplicity, elegant restraint, gentle lines and balance.

In short, Ming style furniture has the following characteristics:

  1. Elegant and graceful lines in the right proportions;
  2. Structurally sturdy with intelligent use of joinery;
  3. Carefully selected wood material, emphasizing the beauty of grains and patterns;
  4. Reserved use of mouldings and carvings to accentuate the look;
  5. Metal work (such as handles and hinges) matches with the overall design.


The Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911 A.D.)

During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.), Manchurians, formally a minority among the Han Chinese, rose to power. Qing furniture styles emphasized form more than function and incorporated elaborate, complex designs. These furnishings were aimed to the tastes of the emperor's court, aristocrats and wealthy businessmen, and strict materials, size, decoration and carving skills requirements were imposed by the Chinese government. Qing furniture is typically heavier and bigger than Ming furniture. It is often finished with gold, silver, jade, ivory and other precious materials.

Please note however that this is only a rough guideline. There is heavily carved Ming dynasty antique furniture, as is there simple lined Qing dynasty furniture made for vernacular household. To date a piece of antique furniture a combination of other factors including joinery techniques and patina study have to be used too.