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Oriental  Arts - Chinese Beds

Many styles of Chinese antique day beds, big marriage beds, opium beds, platforms, couches and canopy beds.

Low platforms, which were used as honorific seats, were the earliest type of raised seating furniture to appear in China. Sitting platforms were called ta; the relatively longer chuang was used both for sitting and reclining. By the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), the platform had increased in height with decorative panels or kunmen-shaped openings decorating the sides.

"When daybeds (ta) were made in ancient times, although the length and width were not standardized, they were invariably antique, elegant and delightful when placed in a studio or room. There was no way in which they were not convenient, whether for sitting up, lying down or reclining. In moments of pleasant relaxation they would spread out classic or historical texts, examine works of calligraphy or painting, display ancient bronze vessels, arrange dishes of food and fruit, or set out a pillow and woven mat."

Wen Zhengheng, Early 17th century

Wen's descriptive imagery recalls painted scenes from the Song and Yuan paintings wherein scholarly gentlemen recline on platforms surrounded with the trappings of the literati lifestyle.

During the late Ming, some sophisticated connoisseurs preferred the archaic style of the box-style platform over the modern daybeds with free-standing legs. Although the old tradition gave way to popular fashion, some limited use continued throughout the Qing dynasty (1644-1912).

Daybeds

Open-frame daybeds were popularized during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), and their use gradually eclipsed the old, box-style platform. Traditional styles included simian ping and waisted forms with cabriole legs or horse feet.

A miniature wooden daybed found in the tomb of Pan Yunzheng (d. 1589) near Shanghai reflects a classical 'waisted corner-leg' -style typical of the late Ming period.

Daybeds of 'recessed-leg' style were also typical of the late Ming period, including both those of round-leg style as well a those with mitred bridle joints and legs shaped with flanges.
Being relatively lightweight, the daybed was well-suited for impromptu gatherings, and was often arranged with other furnishings on a terrace or in the garden where fresh air and natural impressions could be enjoyed.

In a makeshift study arranged on a garden terrace, the daybed served as a place for quiet relaxation and contemplative meditation or as a platform from which to engage in lofty conversation. Such tented arrangements also provided a comfortable place to sleep during the hot summers nights.

The refined gentleman also found idle pleasure playing the qin while seated upon a daybed arranged in a garden pavilion.

Writing in the early 17th century, Wen Zhenheng recommended a simple daybed (ta) for a gentleman's sleeping quarters; his suggested arrangement ™with a couple of stools and a small table set to the side corresponds closely to scene painted by Qiu Ying some 50 years earlier.

Therein, a gentleman relaxes leisurely upon on a simianping daybed, and while reclining against a backrest, looks out upon an enclosed private garden.

Couch Beds

Although the use was similar to the daybed, the couch bed (chuang, luohan chuang) is distinguished by railings, which render it as a more formal piece of furniture. The development of railings may be related with the early placement of screen panels around the back and sides of the platform, which enhanced the sitter as well as provided privacy and protection from drafts.

This practice gradually gave rise to decorative railings attached to the seat frame of the platform.

By the Ming dynasty, the box-style platform had developed into the more sophisticated open-structured, corner-leg form.

Railings were made in various styles; those configured as throne-like stepped panels are evident from the early Ming period. Literary references also record use of decorative stone for couch bed railings during this time.

Railings were frequently decorated with carving, inlays, or painted lacquer. By the late Ming period, advanced joinery techniques permitted the abandonment of the reinforcing floor stretcher.

Contemporary to the fashion for hardwood furniture during the late Ming and Qing dynasties, the couch bed was frequently made with plain solid panels of naturally figured wood or with intricate lattice patterns displaying auspicious wanzi, jingzi, or 'carpenter's square' motifs.

Bamboo was also a favourite material of construction for couch beds especially the prized speckled bamboo.

Couch beds contrived from roots also appeared during the the late Ming and Qing dynasties, at a time when Daoist traditions expressed through rusticity and humble natural materials became fashionable for those with leisurely lifestyles.


Canopy Beds

The platform bed was naturally extended with surrounding screen panels or tented awnings to provide night time enclosure. The canopy bed is thus characterized by a super structure fitted to the top of the bed, which was enclosed with panels and/or hung with draperies. This room within a room provided private space that was further insulated from draffy quarters.

Four-post canopy beds, which were common during the Ming period, were typically draped with fabric around the outside of the frame that suited to the season. Pongee silk or thick cotton provided insulated during the cold winters; gauze netting, provided relief was from annoying insects during the summer without diminishing the refreshingly cool evening breezes. Silk curtains for a lady's bed were often finely embroidered with decorative and auspicious patterns.

Curtains were drawn back during the day with curtain hooks, and the cosy cubicle continued to be utilized for dining, socializing, and other daily activities.

Six post canopy beds exhibit a somewhat more architectural style. The curtains were generally hung on the inside of these beds so as to reveal its decorative lattice-work and/or open-carved panels. Those decorated with marble panels were highly prized during the late Ming period.

The alcove bed is yet a larger piece of furniture that fits upon base with floor boards. An extension in front provides space for a small table, cabinet, and/or stool. The alcove bed is described in the Ming carpenters manual Lu Ban jing, and a miniature wood model illustrated below was discovered in a tomb near Shanghai dated to the late 16th century. A similar full-sized example made from huanghuali wood is exhibited at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City.



 

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