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Ancient Egyptian Furniture

 

The ancient Egyptians had simple but well made furniture. The craftsmen and woodworkers created the simple furniture for the common people while the most elaborate for the wealth and the kings.

At the beginning of the Old Kingdom, which opens with the 3rd dynasty (2686-2613BC), we see the quality of royal furniture made during this period can be seen in those examples in the 4th dynasty tomb of Queen Hetepheres (c 2600 BC) at Giza.

Most of the wooden frameworks were elaborated by gold sheaths, which had encased the furniture. Hetepheres'  furniture consisted of two armchairs, bed frame, bed canopy, carrying chair and two boxes.

The introduction of the wooden boxes were made at the end of the Old Kingdom. They were manufactured with flat, gable, barrel and shrine shaped lids. Some were very large and were designed with a pair of poles that enabled the box to be carried  by a  team of porters. In one tomb scene we see such a box being carried by fourteen men.

During the Middle Kingdom we find boxes were customised to hold cosmetics. Many were designed like crates to hold small alabaster jars which held perfumed oils. Other boxes have been found to contain  mirrors, kohl containers, combs and other items. Other elaborate boxes held jewellery, these were usually inlaid or veneered with sheets of ivory or exotic timbers bought from lands south of Egypt. Chests were used to store domestic possessions such as linens, clothing, jewelry, and make-up.Scribes even had boxes in which they stored their writing implements and palette. Their boxes were usually painted to imitate the stringing and veneered panels found on more ornate boxes. 

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Ancient Egyptian Furniture

Ancient Egyptian Furniture

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The Egyptian bed was a rectangular wooden frame with a mat of woven cords. Instead of using pillows, the Egyptians used a crescent-shaped headrest at one end of the bed. Beds were made of a woven mat placed on wooden framework standing on animal-shaped legs. At one end was a footboard and at the other was a headrest made a curved neckpiece set on top of a short pillar on an oblong base Egyptian bed
   

By the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt we find bed frames were in common use with many examples being found in 1st dynasty (3100-2890 BC) tombs. The quality of these bed frames ranged from conveniently shaped branches that were lashed together, to sophisticated examples made from rounded poles that were jointed together and supported on finely carved bovine shaped legs

The ancient Egyptian stool was made from wood, and had a padded leather or woven rush seat. It is the most common item present in ancient Egyptian homes. A low, square stool, the corners of which flared upwards and on top was placed a leather seat or cushion, was the most common type of furnishing.  The stools’ 3 or 4 legs were very often carved to look like animal legs. Wealthy people had their stools and all furniture in general was richly decorated with gold or silver leaf. The more common people would have things painted to look more expensive than they were.

The ancient Egyptian furniture was in general lower in height than contemporary furniture with beds being about 300mm high and the stools being extremely low by modern standards. As to the lowness of the seating pieces, the short stature of the early Egyptian people may have had some influence, their average height being only a few inches over five feet .However, their chair remains indicate them being quite high off the ground, requiring a footstool to be reached, and once seated the footstool was used to support the sitter's feet.

By the time of the Second Dynasty the stool appears to have differentiated into a new form reserved for royalty and high ranking members of society. It became more substantial in its construction, sometimes having a low back rest and was often higher than the stool. Sometimes a cushion was added.

Middle Kingdom furniture had  a wide collection of small tables. These tables were widely used for the display of vases or holding water pots. Many are low with straight legs and have a single stretcher strung below the table top. We also see that Egyptian carpenters were constructing splay legged tables which had cavetto cornice mouldings below the edge of the table top. Slender vase stands were made from thin strips of timber braced with cross and angled struts. They were fitted with a shaped collar which held the round base of a single vase. Middle Kingdom furniture
   

Those chairs made during the Middle Kingdom had either short backs over which was draped a cover or cushion or they had backs of full height. Such chair backs were curved and made from angled slats of timber. We see that they stood on slender gazelle-shaped legs. Often chairs were painted to simulate animal skin which were painted with a technique which resembles cow skin.

Egyptian chair

example on Egyptian chair

By the Fourth Dynasty the chair reached a high point in its refinement and elegance.  After then the seat in its two forms (the chair used by nobility and royalty and the stool used throughout the rest of the society) remained virtually unchanged for twelve dynasties (to around 1320 B C).

    By the New Kingdom, the homes of officials and nobles would have been furnished with a wide range of furniture. Again the stool was the most popular.The most commonly used were lattice stools that were made from thin struts of timber with angled braces supporting a double cove seat. Round legged stools appear in some of the more important Theban tombs. The majority of legs from these stools were hand rounded although there is a small corpus of material which have legs that appear to be turned.

 

Egyptian chair

Examples of  Curved Egyptian stools.

Stool designs with similar shapes are also recorded. The folding stool shown represents a typical example of this variety. Leather or a material weave would form the seat section or 'stretcher' of the stool. Perhaps the naturally formed curve assumed by the seat when sat upon was imitated in the solid construction.Egyptian furniture and in particular chairs, evolved into some quite complex forms, requiring a high level of skill in their design and crafting as demonstrated in the construction details in

During the New Kingdom we see carpenters sitting on three legged stools which allowed the stool to rest evenly on the workshop floor. The folding stool originates in the Middle Kingdom and was made from two interlocking frames with a leather seat. New Kingdom examples are more elaborate having the floor rails and crossing spindles finished with carved goose head terminals which are inlaid with ivory to imitate the eyes and neck feathers. We also see that lion legged stools and chairs were used in the homes of high ranking officials. 

The furniture manufactured in the royal workshops were not very different in design to that used by the middle classes. However, they were exquisitely embellished with gold sheet, inlaid with coloured stones and faience or veneered with ebony and ivory. They were also adorned with the uraeus and the symbols of kingship. Other pieces are inlaid with thousands of slivers of coloured wood in either marquetry or parquetry patterns.

Early Egyptian Chair

Early Egyptian chair.

The addition of a low backrest to the chair is an interesting development that is not seen again in the history of the chair. From the historical record it would seem the low backrest is supporting the pelvis and sacrum in a fixed orientation, allowing the lumbar spine to move fore or aft to a point of balance.

 

 

By the New Kingdom, Egyptian furniture was highly prized and was often sent as tribute to the rulers of neighbouring countries. Fragments of Egyptian furniture have been excavated at sites around Western Asia.

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