History of Decorative Folding Screens
Decorative folding screens, also known as folding room dividers - is quite an ancient invention, undeservingly
discarded by most of us. Decorative folding screens, probably are the most unusual object of exotic furniture,
introduced to Europe along time ago. Folding screens hardly fit a traditional understanding of furniture. Functional,
yet extremely decorative, they act as a moving wall or folding screen, dividing or adding a space, enchasing character,
and defining style.
Chinese Folding Screens
History of folding screens starts in China, where they appeared
in the VII century. These sophisticated pieces of furniture were made in wide range of sizes, from extremely large
oversized folding screens that were used in spacious palaces, to miniature decorative screens that could comfortably
fit on a tabletop. Folding screens used as room dividers was constructed from several panels attached to each other.
The most popular in VII century China room dividers were six or eight panels folding screens. Chinese masters are
famous for their complex ancient lacquer application techniques. Most known technique used in creation of
folding screens - "naciju" - is a labor intensive multi layered lacquer application technique with
gold leaf inserted into the lacquer on the different levels. Masters applied up to 30 layers of lacquer and each level
had a unique gold leaf pattern. As a result - a magically glowing surface of the
screen that exudes energy. Another popular unique decorative technique used by Chinese artisans in creation of folding screens is dimensional carving on the clay surface.
Folding screens that are made by using this method are known as
Coromandel screens. Each panel of coromandel screens was made
from wood and covered with many layers of soft clay followed with multiple layers of lacquer. Then opulent designs with
landscapes, flora and fauna motives, and calligraphy writing, were skillfully engraved in a different relief (high and low)
into the screens panels, creating a breathtaking three dimensional effect. The Coromandel screens were then painted
and embellished with gold or silver leaf. The unique screen making techniques passed from generation to generation and
are widely used and popular today. Coromandel screens today are made in various
designs from traditional oriental Coromandel screen with flowers and birds design,
Ming Dynasty Coromandel screen
to Art-Deco style coromandel screens
Fragment of folding screen with Oriental village scene featured above
Chinese folding screens often feature dragon motif. The dragon is probably one of the most familiar Chinese motifs. It is a first of all
animals, and a symbol of masculinity, light, growth and life-giving water. As a king of the animals it is also represent nobility and
royalty. According to Chinese mythology the dragon has nine features it takes from other animals: head of a horse, the antlers of a deer, the neck and tail of a snake, the belly of a shell, the scales of a carp,
the claws of an eagle, the soles of a tiger and the ears of an ox. In decorative painting on the folding screens, one or several of those
characteristics was emphasized, depend upon the fusion of the time. The
dragon depicted as an element of outer border design is symbol of prosperity, peace and happiness.
Often a beautiful male and female peacocks were depicted on the panels of the folding screens. In ancient times the peacock was known to the Chinese
only by reputation, but, as the empire extended southward into tropical climates, interest in this spectacularly colored bird exploded. the T'ang culture
also saw the spread of folkloric beliefs involving the peacock, one that the bird would dance on seeing its reflection in a
mirror. This likely accounts for the appearance of peacock as a decorative motif on the furnishing, folding screens, and decorative
mirrors. Other traditions imported from continental Asia link the peacocks to Buddhism. According to legends that originated in India,
this birds eat snakes, especially of the poisonous variety, can avert natural disasters, and is a symbol of immortality. Legendary combination
of strength and beauty of the peacock led to its extreme popularity as a decorative subject. Painted on folding screens often portrayed peacocks
in realistic manner. As an example, flawless and incredibly proportioned
compositions of the large folding screen with peacocks assimilates as a whole and represent a cohesive masterpiece
Romantic compositions of the folding screens often
featured landscapes and swimming swans. It is interesting to know that swans share with other large white birds in East Asia a reputation for
being able to travel between haven and earth. Associating with heaven, swans are often used in hand-painted decorative motifs on the folding
screens. Variety of large birds depicted on
oriental folding wood screen in faux leather finish are an example of this design motif. Often foreground of the folding screens contained one large
central scene with a predominance of flowers and birds.
Folding screen with silver background
featured on our website is showcasing this composition. Flowers celebrated in poetry and art, being combined by artist in a gorgeous
design that alludes to timeless classics. Chinese consider tree peony ("the king of flowers") and regard this opulent flower as a symbol of
good fortune, high honor, and the spring season. Beautiful peony tree is a mane element of the composition of the
hand-painted decorative folding screen. Artist using peony
flowers extensively in paintings on folding screens, portray the plant together with gallinaceous birds like long-tailed fowl. Moreover, they
associate this flowers with romance and love, using it in particular to reverence romantic feelings of women. In China in the flower-and-bird
painting tradition, peony flowers trimmed with fowl
Japanese Folding Screens
In the VIII century folding
screens were introduced in Japan. Due to the customs and particularity of Japanese architecture, for a
long time folding screens remained a most important decorative interior embellishment. Japanese with sophistication
expressed a connection between home architecture and proportion and shape of a
folding screens. The style and motifs of paintings featured on a decorative screens were adjusted according to traditions of the "rising
sun country". Traditionally, in Japanese homes people sat on a floor in a domestic situations as well as during
official ceremonies. Accordingly, painted design was concentrated on the bottom part of a screen, so, when person is
seated, the most detailed part of a screens design was at eye level. While most of the pained interior decorative
items in Japanese homes had a vertical orientation, decorative folding screens introduced a painted designs
with an horizontal compositions that have been developing from right to left. Sometimes the painted designs of the screens
were executed at the 30 to 54 degree angle. Japanese artisans "tilted" designs of a room dividers to achieve
a most dramatic effect.
Character and compositions of folding screens were largely influenced by Japanese Ho theater. Classic traditional
theater's repertoire represented majesty, power, heroism and easily translated into every day living. Rich and influential Japanese aristocrats
started incorporating in decoration of they homes painted folding screens, to accentuate they importance and visually resemble an appearance of a
powerful and heroic figures on the stage of the Ho theater. Elaborately designed, painted in gold decorative screens provided a backdrop resembling
a stage decorations, satisfying the ego of the noble. While Chinese screens have rich and complex ornamentation, the Japanese style of folding screens
is known for it's attention to materials and meaningful symbolical compositions. (
Japanese style folding screen with cranes ) One of the favorite motifs of the nobles is an old pine tree with bended
trunk and branches. Old pine trees in Japanese culture represents wealth and power. Japanese have long believed that rocks, especially those with an
unusual shape, embody sacred power and serve as a receptacles for the temporary residence of deities. Whereas we in the West tend to see rocks as
lifeless and inert, the oriental culture consider rocks to be among those vessels in which life forces brew and gain power. In this context, rocks
often appear on folding screens. In Oriental culture the fact that pine tree is evergreen led to the tree becoming a symbol of longevity, good fortune,
and steadfastness. Because of this auspicious associations oriental art - Chinese and Japanese in particular - treat the pine tree as a primary symbol
of long life and even immortality, and widely incorporated it into decorative design of furnishing, including decorative folding screens. The
middleclass enjoyed decorative screens painted with flowers and birds motifs, the writers preferred folding screens with inspirational landscape
paintings. Japanese women had to have a decorative screen in there homes. Due to the complicated system of social roles and taboos a
folding screens have strong emotional meanings, associated with secrets, love, flirtation, and female life overall. In many Japanese books
folding screens are the only witness of secret meetings and love affairs.
Folding Screens in Europe
Some believe that
folding screens were introduced to Europe by Marco Polo, who brought them to Italy from his
expedition to China. Decorative screens instantly caught attention because of there size, beauty and immediately
discovered multifunctional qualities. Moreover the uncomplicated construction of the
folding screens could be easily reproduced by native masters. Portable decorative screens made their way into the huge dreary rooms of Gothic castles.
These first European folding screens were build from chunky oak planks, they were extremely heavy and look more like a
fence than an interior piece of furniture. Even though, the decorative appearance of this
folding screens was incomparable to original beauty of Chinese folding screens, they made a huge rooms appear much cozier.
In the 17th century folding screens appeared in Europe in all there glory. With elaborate prosperity of a rococo style
the popularity of everything exotic and oriental had grown and Chinese
decorative screens were reintroduced to Europe. Europeans immediately discovered and valued the dual functionality of folding screens. The ability of the folding screens to partly close a space, dividing it on a separate areas, while providing an artistic and sophisticated
look opened a whole new opportunities for space planning. Decorative screens become objects for admiration and even highly
valuable collectables. Decorative folding screens were extremely expensive, therefore only wealthiest residence
could afford to own them. The most valuable were the Coromandel screens. Black with golden accents or colorfully
painted Coromandel screens established themselves in a great palaces. With decorative screen as a backdrop any event that
would take place, whether it was a card game, party, or a romantic date would have an aura of mystery.
fragment of the pastoral scene hand-painted folding screen featured above
From Holland to
England, from France to Russia folding decorative screens become a must have object in majestic interiors of
royalty and nobility. Russian queen Ekaterina II had such a fascination for everything oriental, that she ordered a Chinese
palace to be built for herself. The Queen's imagination required painted ceilings, porcelain, wall panels, and luxurious
fabrics in a royal Chinoserie style. But after careful calculations by architect Antonio Rinaldy the expense of all desired by
Ekaterina II imported Chinese goods was extremely expensive even for a queen. Her Chinese palace was build and exist
now in all its glory, interiors of the palace were finished by the best European artisans in Chinoserie designs, but one
thing Ekaterina had to have. Guess what was it? Yes, it was an exceptional eight panel lacquered
folding screen from China. No one, even the best European artisans, could reproduced famous Chinese screens. Because of special secret
formulation of the lacquer and unique application techniques known and cherished by Chinese master artisans. Stunningly beautiful
Ekaterina's folding screen featured Chinese princess in the bridal gown with her servants. The Queen ordered this masterpiece
placed into her bedroom, so she could please her eyes while resting to sleep.
The popularity of the decorative room dividers was revived in XIX-XX centuries.
Folding screen with European park scene is available on our website.
On the edge of the centuries two main directions of interior design appeared;
the Arts and Crafts movement's interest in line and quality craftsmanship was
developed in England and America, then elsewhere in Europe there was a move
towards the decorative swirls, of Art Nouveau. The successors of this two where
encompassed in the eclectic Art Deco era that brought back an admiration of
oriental arts. Folding screens came back in style once again.
On our site we have several decorative screens that are made using
traditional Coromandel techniques and executed in Art-Deco style.
Traditional oriental landscapes, mysterious hieroglyphs, and traditional Ming Dynasty court scenes hand painted on the folding screens where inspirational for Degas, Van Gogh and other talents of the
Folding Screens in Today's Interiors
Open plans of today's interiors with the zoning
principles explains a new revival of folding screens and there extreme popularity. When living space had to be divided into the
functional zones. Nothing could accomplish this task better than use of folding screens with there incredible versatility,
mobility, adjustability, and esthetic value. It's made a perfect sense to use
folding screens instead of the complicated in construction sliding or folding doors (by the way, they barely hold any
esthetic value). Folding screens do not require any installation, you can fold it,
move it, or place in another room any time you want, moreover, the look of this
decorative folding screens are absolutely beautiful and can satisfy any style preferences
and decorating taste. The space divided by decorative screen can be used for different purposes. This unique exotic piece of furniture
like botanical folding screen will look great in any room in your home. Folding screens are often placed in the master bedroom, dining or living
room. Look at gorgeous design of the hand-painted folding screen that is executed in Trompe l'oeil technique. When placed against the wall, folding screen
like that creates a dramatic decorative backdrop for an overall design and represent high esthetical value.
If folding screen is strategically placed to divide the room you can see it's hand painted design from both sides. Usually, decorative
screens room dividers have a different design on the front and on the back. The space created by separation has a very private and cozy
atmosphere. That is why behind the folding panels of the decorative screens is a quiet place for reading, sleeping or private conversation.
Of course, places like that are perfect for relaxation and a quite conversation with love ones. A decorative screens will
add an architectural quality to a room. By using folding screens as a room dividers you can set off an entrance where the front door opens
directly into the living area. Folding screens can act as a divider between living and dining areas, they can close off a kitchen, or
set off a private area by making a room within a room. Folding screens can redirect traffic when strategically placed, extend the apparent
size of a room by replacing a door. With portable folding screens you can control the flow of air and the direction of light, camouflage an old-fashioned
radiator or air conditioning unit, or conceal storage. Decorative screens like
Chinoserie folding screen or
antiqued red oriental screen can act as a great backdrop for a furniture
grouping, substitute for side drapery, or serve as a room focal point.
If you thinking, that folding screens are old fashion, think twice. Of course, decorative screens are not a furniture piece of first priority. But eastern ability to transform everyday
things into a masterpieces, always created a special mysterious aura and attraction to every day exotic. Beside that
folding screens can separating a room and hand-painted decorative screens can act as a beautiful mobile art piece.