Chinese classical furniture is esteemed throughout the world for its beauty, functionalism, and influence on contemporary design aesthetics. Sarah Handler's stunningly illustrated volume traces Chinese hardwood furniture from its earliest origins in the Shang dynasty (c. 1500 to c. 1050 B.C.) to the present. She offers a fascinating and poetic view of Chinese furniture as functional sculpture, a fine art alongside the other Chinese arts of calligraphy, architecture, painting, and literature.
Handler, a widely respected scholar of Chinese furniture, uses her knowledge of Chinese social, political, and economic history to provide a backdrop for understanding the many nuances of this art form. Drawing on literary and visual evidence from excavated materials, written texts, paintings, prints, and engravings, she discusses how people lived, their notions of hierarchy, and their perceptions of space. Her descriptions of historical developments, such as the shift from mats to chairs, evoke the psychological and sociological ramifications.
The invention of a distinctive way to support and contain people and things within the household is one of China's singular contributions, says Handler. With more than three hundred exquisite illustrations, many in color, Handler's comprehensive study reveals "the magical totality of Chinese classical furniture, from its rich surfaces and shrewd proportions down to the austere soul of art that resides in the hardwood interiors." Austere Luminosity recognizes Chinese classical furniture as one of China's premier arts, unique in the furniture traditions of the world.
Chronology of Dynasties
Introduction: A Taste for Austere Luminosity
Revolution and Discovery
1. Rising from Mat to Chair: A Revolution in Chinese Furniture
2. A Ming Meditation Chair in Bauhaus Light
3. George Kates Discovering Chinese Furniture during the Years That Were Fat
4. A Yokeback Chair for Sitting Tall
5. The Folding Armchair: An Elegant Vagabond
6. The Lowback Armchair with Carvings of Bamboo, Magic Fungi, or the Three Friends of Winter
7. A Ubiquitous Stool
8. Life on a Platform
9. A Couchbed Day and Night for Comfort and Joy
10. The Canopy Bed: A Little World Made Cunningly
11. On a New World Arose a Kang Table
12. A Square Table Where the Immortals Dine
13. A Clean Table by a Bright Window
14. The Side Table: A Surface for Treasures and Gods
Cabinets and Screens
15. Cabinets and Shelves Containing All Things in China
16. The Screen: A Movable Wall to Divide, Enhance, and Beautify
17. The Incense Stand and a Scholar's Mystical State
18. Lamp Stands and Lanterns: Carriers of Light
19. Perfumed Coals in Precious Braziers Burn
20. Washbasin Stands for Ablutions and Washing Clean
An historian of Chinese art, Sarah Handler was Curator of the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture and has taught at the University of California, Los Angeles, University of Illinois, and the University of Michigan. She has published widely in journals, collected volumes, and is coauthor, with Nancy Berliner, of Friends of the House: Furniture from China's Towns and Villages (1996). She also edited and translated from the Chinese Wang Shixiang's Classic Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties (1986).
"Sarah Handler has written a true cultural history of Chinese furniture. Her book is a highly erudite blend of art history and social history, yet with a structure as transparent and elegant as that of a fine piece of Ming-style furniture."—Klaas Ruitenbeek, Louise Hawley Stone Chair of Far Eastern Art, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, and author of Carpentry and Building in Late Imperial China: A Study of the Fifteenth-Century Carpenter's Manual Lu Ban jing