A pair of limestone drum-shaped garden stools

明   石灰岩鼓墩一對

The seats are of stoutly proportioned drum shape encircled just below the flat seat at the top and at the bottom of the sides, just above the base, with rows of bosses suggesting nail heads. The sides of one are decorated with two large quatrefoil motifs alternating with two roundels of flowers, carved in relief. The sides of the other have matching quatrefoil motifs and roundels of fruiting branches. The decoration is set off against a lightly scored ground, between incised line borders. The tops of each are well worn from use, showing the fine-grained dark grey stone.

The form of drum on which these garden stools is based is of great antiquity, dating back at least to the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) when drums of this shape, called jiangu were set up horizontally on poles.  The nails used to secure the animal hides to the two ends of the drum persist in the iconography of the form throughout its existence, well into the Qing dynasty.  The first furniture that copied the form of the jiangu was probably made of bamboo or wood though none has survived. The particular characteristics of the versions made of ephemeral organic materials such as bamboo openwork, can sometimes be seen copied in the more durable materials.  

We can see that furniture of this form suitable for use outdoors was already in existence by the 
Song dynasty by examining the Ladies’ Classic of Filial Piety, the first part of which is preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei. It consists of nine texts with illustrations. In one of these are depicted six court ladies seated on large drum-shaped stools around a large low table, receiving instruction in Confucian etiquette from a seventh lady seated sage-like on the end of the table.  Their stools all have a quatrefoil diaper pattern, perhaps suggesting a brocade covering. For a discussion of this painting, see “The “Ladies’ Classic of Filial Piety” and Sung Textual Illustration: Problems of Reconstruction and Artistic Context”, by Julia Murray. Despite a rather earlier attribution, the painting is believed to date from the later Song period.

In the Ming dynasty, celadon versions made at Longquan, blue and white versions made at Jingdezhen, and colourful fahua versions all appear. Like the present stone stools, it is fair to presume that the porcelain stools were intended, at least sometimes, to be used outdoors on the terraces or in the open pavilions of the extensive gardens of the wealthy Ming families.  Indoors, stools of this form, exhibiting sophisticated joinery, were made of hardwoods including huanghuali and zitan.

For a Longquan version of the same size and with similar ‘drum-nail’ fastening features, and floral designs, see My Favorites Exquisite Celadons Made in Guacang, p. 112-113. A further Longquan example, with phoenix amongst flowers, is illustrated in Celadons from Longquan Kilns, no. 285, p. 295.

Dimensions: Height: 38.5 cm, 15 ⅛ inches

Date: Ming dynasty (1368-1644), 16th/17th century

Stock No. 2110

Price: On Request