This Song-style table is replicated from a painting by Wang Shen of the Song Dynasty.
Tables of similar styles can often be seen in paintings from the Song Dynasty. Their forms were settled during this time, developed from the box-shaped tables and beds popular in the Tang Dynasty.
The table is so succinct that no part can be removed without affecting its structure. The table-top extends unhampered and make a sharp turn at the four legs. All four side facades are on one plane, and tables of such a structure are distinguished in name from another type (that have inset legs, which are called AN).
The table-top and the part beneath it are combined in an inconspicuous but complicated way:
First, four frame members lock up the top board, with the clamps mounted underneath. This is the top part, to be supported by the frame. Legs join aprons to form the frame with mitre joints. A half-ingot-shaped peg is chiselled out on both sides to join with the mortises on the aprons. The frame is thus formed, and above it the top part is mounted.
In his book Classic Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties, Wang Shixiang said that “such a practice requires the aprons to be of enough thickness, and tenons and mortises are required respectively on the aprons and the frame members, to serve as extra braces for the strength of the legs, and also to combine the top part and the frame in a seamless way.
The thickness of the aprons requires the designer/craftsman to balance it with the size of the table, so that the finished work is firm enough to serve for years, while also looks elegant and well-proportioned.
Tables that appear in the Song-Dynasty paintings look graceful and well-extended.
The legs are of a square section, and turn slimmer as they go downwards. In spite of looking weak, they hold firm and straight.
The feet never touch the ground without some motifs. In the Ming Dynasty, the typical motif is the so-called horse-hoof, high or low. In the Song Dynasty, motifs are more various, but the most often-seen ones are of a scroll or Ruyi design.
Occasionally seen in a painting is an “improved” style of feet, which diverts somewhat from the trail of development of Chinese furniture. More often than not, the achieved result is not successful.
In Song and Ming paintings, such tables are often not used as a major piece in the study. They appear mostly in the lives of scholars, bureaucrats and their wives and concubines on more relaxed and personal occasions, such as when with friends, in solitude, or in front of a mirror.
There are also tables that are more narrow and longish, as is shown in the beginning of this article. These are typically used as side tables, against a wall. Though not depicted in Song paintings, the usage can be found in Ming woodblock paintings.
Though seemingly of a simple structure and thus easy to make, the table is not seen in paintings depicting lives of the ordinary class. Its air of ethereality and delicacy does not blend it well with the more down-to-earth side of life.