Chinese art historian:     Material culture   -   Furniture   -   Painting   -   Architecture 



Austere Luminosity of Chinese Classical Furniture.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

Chinese classical furniture is esteemed throughout the world for its beauty, functionalism, and influence on contemporary design aesthetics. Sarah Handler's stunningly illustrated volume traces Chinese hardwood furniture from its earliest origins in the Shang dynasty (c. 1500 to c. 1050 B.C.) to the present. She offers a fascinating and poetic view of Chinese furniture as functional sculpture, a fine art alongside the other Chinese arts of calligraphy, architecture, painting, and literature.

Handler, a widely respected scholar of Chinese furniture, uses her knowledge of Chinese social, political, and economic history to provide a backdrop for understanding the many nuances of this art form. Drawing on literary and visual evidence from excavated materials, written texts, paintings, prints, and engravings, she discusses how people lived, their notions of hierarchy, and their perceptions of space. Her descriptions of historical developments, such as the shift from mats to chairs, evoke the psychological and sociological ramifications.

The invention of a distinctive way to support and contain people and things within the household is one of China's singular contributions, says Handler. With more than three hundred exquisite illu
strations, many in color, Handler's comprehensive study reveals "the magical totality of Chinese classical furniture, from its rich surfaces and shrewd proportions down to the austere soul of art that resides in the hardwood interiors." Austere Luminosity recognizes Chinese classical furniture as one of China's premier arts, unique in the furniture traditions of the world.

“Sarah Handler has written a true cultural history of Chinese furniture.  Her book is a highly erudite blend of art history and social history, yet with a structure as transparent and elegant as that of a fine piece of Ming-style furniture.”

—Klaas Ruitenbeek

“The first major work to reach beyond picturing collectors’ trophies and place Chinese furniture in the context of the culture.  Handler has effectively woven the narrow subject of Chinese furniture design into the larger tapestry of Chinese life.”

—-Library Journal

“this very handsomely produced volume is by far the most comprehensive coverage of Chinese hardwood furniture available in English, and the author’s undeniable zeal on behalf of the objects she reproduces and discusses with such passion make it extremely readable.”
—Craig Clunas

“Sarah Handler writes beautifully.  Her exposition is clear, elegant, and easy to read, and her love of Chinese culture and enthusiasm for Chinese furniture are evident all her writing…..Handler’s scholarship has many strengths, and she excels in weaving together complex discussions of social history and other evidence to establish the origin and

development of major furniture forms.  Much of her work is original research, and in other instances she has brilliantly pulled together information from previously published sources to develop a clear story line that is easy to follow and compelling both to those familiar with the subject and to the novice.”

—-Lark Mason

"[A]nyone in the field would be hard-pressed to find a more complete

  resource of classical Chinese furniture-a directory that doubles as

  cultural history.”

—-Art & Auction Magazine

“Handler’s sumptuous volume goes a long way toward placing classical Chinese furniture of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1912) solidly in the pantheon of important Chinese art….Art historian Handler is the North American expert on the subject, and it shows as she places the pieces in many contexts.  She does this by including other materials—paintings, prints, many different artifacts, etc.—so that the furniture comes alive rather than standing in isolation.”

—-J.O. Caswell

Austere Luminosity blends art history with social history to trace the evolution of Chinese hardwood  furniture.”

—-Art & Antiques

“This splendidly illustrated volume contains an erudite discussion of the artistic and cultural history of classical furniture….Because of the influence of Chinese furniture on furniture design in England and America, anyone with an interest in history of Eastern or Western furniture will be fascinated by this engaging volume.”

—The Magazine Antiques

“This view offers a fascinating and poetic view of Chinese furniture as functional sculpture, a fine art alongside the other Chinese arts—Calligraphy, architecture, painting and literature.  A true, cultural history of Chinese furniture.”

——Antiques and Collecting Magazine 


Photo by Seth Affoumado


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