CASE STUDIES.

In this chapter, we study furniture in depth in order to better estimate their precise origin and carry out accurate dating.

“SUNG SUN I” BANDAJI.

This piece of furniture, bought in China in the mid-90s, probably came from North Korea. In the late ’80s, many pieces circulated between North Korea and China via the northern border of north-Korea and the provinces of Liaoning and Jilin in China.

The “Sung Sun I” style, from the northern part of the peninsula, is characterized by fine, lacelike ironwork on the front of the chest.

SUNG SUN I BANDAJI. Elm wood, iron fittings. North Korea Late 19th century. Korea

We found this unrestored piece of furniture in good condition. Not a single piece was missing. It was rare to come across furniture like this, as most of it required extensive restoration, replacement of missing parts, cleaning and reconditioning of the finish.

In this particular case, examination of the wood revealed the use of elm (front part), rather rare for this type of piece. For most of them, linden or pine was commonly used. Its fine grain was particularly attractive with a very nice original patina.
The furniture also rested on a lightly-decorated original base of good quality. This design is known as “Madaetype.
Closer examination revealed the absence of nails. The furniture had been assembled using the traditional jointing technique employed by the Korean carpenters of the Joseon dynasty.

Woods: Elm (front part), pine (back and sides).

Dimension: H. 103cm, W. 107cm, D. 47cm.

The central metal piece is a South gate motif over a single decorative handle..
Iron hinges with openwork
Tongue fastener.
Detail of the bottom leg “Madae” type with a crossbar to ensure stability. Carved geometric motif called the crypt shape or swirling “thunder moon” pattern.

Based on its condition and careful examination of the hinges, we estimate that this piece of furniture probably dates from the late 19th century. It probably belonged to a relatively wealthy family and is typical of the Pyongan province in the north-west of the peninsula.

BOOKCHEST – FURNITURE THAT TELLS STORIES.

Furniture from every era serves as a visible reminder of the customs and traditions prevalent during the period in which it was designed. The dimensions, color finishes, and decorative motifs of these pieces provide valuable clues about the tastes of their owners.

In Korea, for example, we observe that furniture intended for women featured more decorative elements and was often more colorful. Men’s furniture, on the other hand, adhered to the principle of sobriety dear to Confucian principles.

To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at this piece of furniture displayed at the National Folk Museum of Korea in Seoul.

This large chest is made of pine wood covered with a dark stain. Dimensions are H. 128cm, W. 150,5cm, D. 38,5cm.

It is composed of two floors opened by double doors. The upper part of the cabinet has raised edges, a characteristic feature of scholar’s chests. The upturned ends are not only decorative but help to prevent scrolls from rolling off the chest. It stands on elaborate “cabriole” feet.

Furniture for books and document storage are distinguished by relatively subdued woods and fittings.

DECORATIVE MOTIFS.

A more detailed analysis of the decorative motifs reveals certain characteristics of Korean society at the time.

This piece of furniture, richly decorated with auspicious motifs and dear to the heart of the Korean scholar, is a perfect illustration of the Confucian ideology that dominated society during the Joseon dynasty. The motifs shown above are mostly of Chinese origin but were used extensively in Korean art of the period. They symbolize good fortune, integrity, long life, prosperity, and the wish for male offspring, as well as perseverance.

EARLY BOOK CHEST.

Two level book chest. Mixed media on wood.
H. 102,2cm, W. 115,7cm, D. 43cm.
179th Art Auction, June 24, 2024. Seoul Korea

This is a Gyeongsang-style two-story bookshelf featuring scroll top panel ends and foot-shaped legs, retaining the elegant appearance characteristic of wooden furniture from the Joseon Dynasty. The top and frame are made of pear wood, known for its rigidity, while the front is crafted from ginkgo wood, which is less prone to warping. The construction and joint structure are particularly outstanding. There are doors at both the top and bottom sections, and the top compartment includes additional drawers for easy storage.

The bookshelf was constructed by building the front frame first and then inserting panels between it, a technique often used in high-end furniture to prevent the defects caused by wood contraction and expansion, as well as to reduce the weight of the furniture. The sides and back are divided according to the internal composition. Arabesque-style wind holes are placed next to the pillars under the bottom, with additional arabesque-shaped and bamboo-shaped wind holes on the legs for added decorativeness. The Ansangmun pattern is engraved on the front compartment, while the Yeouidomun pattern adorns the back panel. A simple cast iron fitting is attached to give it a minimalist feel.

A bookshelf like this is designed to hold heavy books and stationery, so the use of hard wood, a sturdy texture, and efficient spatial composition are essential elements. It was manufactured with all these considerations in mind, and its form has remained intact even after many years of use. This rare piece of wooden furniture dates back to the 17th century and is considered a representative example of a scholarly bookshelf, featuring a decorative yet restrained and honest style.

BOOK CHEST, COIN CHEST OR GRAIN CHEST?

Bookchest. Pine wood, iron fittings. H. 82cm, W. 136cm, D. 42,3cm.
Collection: National Folk Museum, Seoul.
Coin chest. National Folk Museum. H. 47,5cm, W. 74,8cm, D. 27,3cm.
Collection: National Folk Museum, Seoul.


Furniture for storing grains, dishes, etc., takes the form of a rectangular parallelepiped with legs. It is a top-closing type, made by inserting a door plate at the top and connecting a hinge so that it can be opened and closed upward. The legs are connected to the body’s top and are made by attaching fittings.
Box. Gangneung-si Ojukheon City Museum. Japanese occupation. 39,8 x 60,5 x 28,7
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