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Embroidered stools (xiudun) are an ancient Chinese furnishing with numerous design iterations and a long history of development. According to art historians, objects of this kind have existed since the Warring States period (ca. 475–221 BCE). Since ancient times, incense has been burned underneath the stools to provide heat, so most have openwork designs. With later development, during the Northern and Southern Dynasties (386–589 CE), creative influences from the lotus throne (liantai) of Buddhism resulted in stools shaped like waist drums (yaogu). Seats designed for ladies during the Tang dynasty (618–906 CE) continued this drum shape. Those made for the imperial court were often covered with an embroidered cloth (xiupa), from which was derived the commonly used name—embroidered stools (xiudun). Green glazed ceramic pieces made in the likeness of an embroidered stool, such as this featured item, became popular only in the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, and many were made of stone, wood, and other materials. The stools were often covered with an embroidered cloth, but directly engraving a design inspired by embroidery onto the top and including openwork in the body are late examples of continuing the legacy of earlier designs.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties, and especially into the Qing dynasty, embroidered stools were made with an abundance of decorative elements. Among ceramic stools, celadon was only one of many techniques, including blue and white porcelain (qinghua) and polychrome painting (wucai). This Longquan celadon stool is a rather early product of the kilns. The seat features a central floral design on a foliated brocade ground. The upper and lower rings of the body continue the simulated brocade ground design and have additional round tacks, inspired by tacked drum skins, with a lotus petal design around the base. The center of the body has openwork of flowers and a lion rolling an embroidered ball. The base is supported by six feet in the cloud-like shape of ruyi scepter heads.
Another noteworthy aspect is this object’s striking similarities with certain works made at the Jingdezhen kilns. Similar simulated brocade grounds, primary designs of lions rolling embroidered balls, and ruyi scepter feet have been identified on blue and white ceramic stools unearthed in 2014 from the Jingdezhen kiln ruins that date to the period between Zhengtong (1436–1449) and Tianshun (1457–1464) reigns of the Ming dynasty. Since the kilns at Jingdezhen were used exclusively by the imperial household during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and with current archaeological finds suggesting that large amounts of imperial Longquan cerladon were made during the early-Ming period, considering the shared traits of this piece with imperial ceramics from Jingdezhen, the evidence points to the possibility that this embroidered stool is an example of one of the last quantities of ceramics made for the imperial court at Longquan.
Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying