Mandarin Duck Cabinet
On View: Asian Galleries, South, 2nd floor
Most household goods were stored in the women’s quarters in large cabinets and chests. These were typically the largest and most costly pieces of furniture in the home, and were given to the couple at the time of their wedding. The taller piece shown here is known as a “mandarin duck” cabinet because of the paired openings at the base. Mandarin ducks mate for life, so they are emblematic of the number two and of happy marriages. The red lacquer of the smaller cabinet, with its elaborate inlay of mother-of-pearl, indicates that it was made for a female member of the royal family.
Lacquer on wood, zelkova burl panels, brass fittings
early 20th century
63 1/8 x 44 3/4 x 22 1/4 in. (160.3 x 113.7 x 56.5 cm)
George C. Brackett Fund
The name "mandarin duck cabinet" comes from the double doors on each tier. This cabinet was produced mainly to be included in a bride's dowry, and signified well wishes for the newly wed couple's long and happy marriage. This particular cabinet shows the typical characteristics of Gyeonggi region mandarin duck cabinets.
From "Korean Art Collection in the Brooklyn Museum" catalogue.
Mandarin ducks mate for life and tend to travel in pairs. As a result, many Asian cultures associate pairing and marriage with the ducks.
From Accession Card:
Red and Black lacquer on wood, zelkova burl panels, pine side and back panels, brass fittings. This large, rectangular chest, with its multiplicity of panels and moldings and ornamental hardware, indicate it was made for the women's quarters in the home of a member of the royal family. Chests decorated with red and black lacquer were usually restricted to royal use. Confucianism required upper class Yi Dynasty men and women to maintain separate living quarters within the same house. They ate separately, slept separately, although husbands could visit their wives during the night. The chest rests on low, somewhat curved feet, painted a dull red and bound at the corners with brass plaques. The front of the chest is divided into two lower compartments side by side, two larger upper compartments one about another and a small top row of small flat drawers. Each compartment has double doors that hinge at the sides. The main frames and most of the moldings are in black lacquer, as are the five low panels across the bottom. The frames of the upper and middle pairs of doors are in red lacquer. The door panels, the fronts of the four small drawers across the top are zelkova burl wood: the side panels and back panels of this chest are made of pine and are undecorated. The brass fittings on this Chest are unusually elaborate; the hinges, latch plates, drawer pulls and corner fittings all have complex ornamental openwork. Decorative brass plaques depicting plants and songbirds were applied to each main panel on the front. The interior is papered, but the paper is now torn.
Condition: The chest is slightly chipped in places and the black is worn from some of the mouldings. Two locks and on plaque are missing. The center panel on the right side is cracked. Left rear leg weak; should be repaired.
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