Mini Marriage Cabinet with Carvings on Side
Item No. 19223
19th - 20th Century, N/A, China
Lacquer over Wood with Gilt
15.25" x 11" x 4.75"
( 38.735 x 27.94 x 12.065 cm)
(H x W x D)
Mini cabinets such as this one are constructed the same way a large Chinese storage cabinet would have been, i.e., without nails and with mortise and tenon joints, tongue and groove fittings and other Chinese furniture techniques. Such small pieces were made for many purposes, including their use as gifts for newly married couples. This cabinet with block feet and a scalloped apron is especially charming and poignant. The front door panels are decorated with raised rectangular registers bordered in black and gilt and the bottom drawer, with its original pull, is decorated with painted florals.
The most remarkable and beautiful feature of this cabinet is the ornate panel on the left side which is composed of two smaller and one large deeply carved registers covered with gilt. The bottom two registers contain images of florals, while the top contains an image of a man and woman under a willow tree. The flower in the second register is a peony, symbol of spring, which is also a metaphor for female beauty and reproduction. In this sense, it is a wish for the young couple to be fertile and have many (male) children.
The willow is a commonly used image in Chinese art, which represents many of the same elements as the peony. It too represents spring, the season of youth, new beginnings, optimism and fertility --- all conditions that resonate with and reflect the aspirations of the young married couple to whom this box was probably presented by a family member. Due to its beauty, suppleness and frailty, the willow represents the female gender and all that is considered feminine. The willow is also significant in Buddhist beliefs where it is a sign of humility and meekness. A willow branch is one of the symbols of Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who uses it to sprinkle the holy waters from her vial on sentient beings to help them attain their personal enlightenment.