Zitan panel of foliate form

China, Qing dynasty, 19th century

Length: 11 3/4 inches, 30 cm
Thickness: 1 inch, 2.5 cm

A zitan panel of six-lobed foliate form, with straight side railings and a short panel base. The flat and unadorned surface meets the sides with a sloping, convex beaded rim in a wide band. The wood is well polished, and the zitan displays the typical purplish hue with characteristic minute silvery streaks. 

The present zitan panel is carved from a large piece of wood, which is a luxurious way to use such a precious material. Zitan is the densest and slowest growing of hardwoods used to create objects for the scholar’s desk, and occurs rarely, due to size limitations and the delicate nature of the wood. This heavy panel might have been inserted into contemporary furniture as an ornament, or used as a stand or as a stationery or tea-tray. A comparable hardwood tray made of a single piece of jichimu in a floral design, dated to the early 19th century, is illustrated in Wood from the Scholar’s Table.[1]

  1. Piccus, R. P. ed. Wood from the Scholar’s Table: Chinese Hardwood Carvings and Scholar’s Articles, Gulliver Books, Hong Kong, 1984, no. 92, pp. 144-5