The color is wonderful. The knots and fissures add to the effect. The front aspect has formed fingers to represent the desirable "Buddha's Hand" seen in many of Chinese carvings.
This stands 9 and 1/2 inches tall, and is in Very Good Condition.
Circa 1920. Unsigned.
This is a heavy substantial piece. It would be a very dramatic accent piece, perhaps with some dried leaves or dried flowers. Perhaps some peacock feathers. Very striking attention-getter.
Some additional information about rootwood -
Long before contemporary furniture makers began to preserve the natural forms of tree trunks and branches, Chinese artists had mastered the craft of designing furniture and other decorative objects from the twisted forms and inherent grains of hardwoods.
The significance of rootwood furniture is not only formal; it is also philosophical. Satisfying the Taoist design principles of naturalism and spontaneity, rootwood furniture exemplifies the idea that the scholarly aesthetic of a Chinese gentleman should be expressed with a humble attitude. The Chinese ideals for a literati gentleman are strength in reason, creation, expression and dexterity—these values are also expressed in what is required to envision, design and create rootwood pieces.
Wood is one of the five elements of Chinese mysticism, along with fire, water, metal, and earth. The twisted roots of trees have special associations for Buddhists and Taoists, who see them as the embodiment of the ebb and flow of nature's energy. A search for the perfect piece of trunk or root mirrored the spiritual pursuit of harmony. Polished and arranged in a certain way, rootwood has the ability to transform from a piece of wood into a cumulus cloud, a flowing river, or a miniature mountain range. By removing the wood from its original context, it takes on special symbolism.
Looking at Chinese paintings, it is easy to find examples of rootwood's historical importance. An imperial painting from the Five Dynasties period (8th century) depicts Emporor Minghuang sitting on a rootwood stool. Later, images from the Ming and Qing Dynasties (16th to 19th centuries) commonly show scholars sitting in rootwood chairs. The twisted forms of rootwood beds and tables also populate the erotic art of the era, attesting to its significance not only in the homes of intellectuals but also in the hidden world of sensual pleasure.
Like many Chinese objects and materials, rootwood contains the duality of two worlds. Rootwood craftsmen—by manipulating the perception and scale of the original tree—shape the mystical, unknowable world into one that is known, an everyday part of daily human life. The root of the tree offers a sense of wholeness in its form. An ancient love poem from the Han Dynasty beautifully illustrates the metaphor of completeness: "...roots never break from the trunk they cling to. If even these unfeeling things shun separation, how could we, who have feelings, bear to part?"
Excerpted from The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century, Trans. & Ed. Burton Watson, Columbia University Press, 1986.
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