Traditional Chinese medicine requires the use of hundreds of herbs, minerals, and liquid extracts to treat the full range of human maladies. Large multi-drawer chests were used to store sets of the most common medicinal ingredients which were usually combined to make specific cures. Typically, the various dried elements would be made into a kind of tea that was then drunk. The herbalist was the doctor and often examined and treated patients from a desk.
Large medicine chests like these were mainly found in medicine shops and they sometimes filled up entire walls, like a library of medicine. Smaller chests, with fewer medicines, were sometimes found in wealthy homes. Originally, medicine chests were covered in a protective coat of natural lacquer and the contents of each drawer were listed by painted-on characters or paper labels. Liquid extracts, dried mushrooms, funguses or other organic oddities were preserved in ceramic jars, which were then kept on open shelves.
This pair of large medicine chests was made from Elm Wood in the Ming style. That is, the frame is round-beveled and minimalist in design. The design mixes drawers and open shelving. Without explicit decoration, the design is elegant and well-balanced. The cabinets feature mortise-and-tenon joinery; no nails were used. All wood is solid hardwood. Because the drawer faces are recessed from the frame, the visual mass is dramatically reduced. The chests were originally finished in dark oxblood lacquer, which had largely rubbed off and was subsequently stripped. Remnants of that natural lacquer remain in the crevices and corners.
These chests date to the late 19th Century and were found in Shanxi Province. For the last 20 years, the remote province has been the major source of unusually simple and refined Chinese furniture. The province was once a wealthy banking center which fell into sharp decline after the Qing Dynasty defaulted on its debs in 1911.
- Origin | China
- Dimensions | 49.5"W x 20.75"D x 91"H
- Age | C.1900's
- Material | Elm
- ID | 21T01319B
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