Set of Four Antique Carved Fretwork Window Panels
Zhejiang, circa 1830
This exquisite set of four hardwood panels is part of a set of sixteen that were saved from a traditional house in Zhejiang province, eastern China, before its refurbishment. They date from the early nineteenth century and, with their detailed central carvings and fine, intricate surrounding lattice work, they show some of the highest level of craftsmanship we have seen in surviving Chinese antique furniture. Unlike most fretwork panels, which fit individual lengths of wood together with mortise and tenon joints to create a pattern, these are each carved from a single piece of wood. They would have been produced by a master craftsman at the top of his profession and commissioned for installation in the home of a family of considerable wealth.
The panels would have been used together to screen off part of a 'siheyuan' courtyard house, quite possibly providing a vista onto the main internal courtyard. The open lattice sections would allow air to flow around the home during the hot summer months, while also providing a level of privacy for the occupants.
The main central carvings are in deep relief on several levels, each depicting scenes from a traditional Chinese folk tale. The sixteen panels would have been placed in an order to represent the whole story, with the various characters and scenes shown accordingly. The detail is extraordinary, from the faces and costumes of the various figures represented to the tiled rooftops and flowers and leaves on the trees. Each panel is set with a surrounding frame in open lattice carving, incorporating elements of flora and fauna with symbolic meaning. These include double coin motifs for prosperity and bats to represent good luck. At the bottom of each panel is a further section in carved relief. Some of these also feature auspicious animals or scenes from folklore, while others show a selection of valuable objects - vases, bronzes and even fine furniture.
The panels are a wonderful example of the skill and craftsmanship of the master carvers of Zhejiang and other southern Chinese provinces and represent a dying art. They would make a superb decorative feature on a wall in a modern home, with a link to a bygone age.
Sold as a set of four panels, the price shown is for the set.
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