Monday, February 26, 2018

History of Furniture: Sit Like An Egyptian

When we look at the history of furniture and furnishings, we can travel pretty far back in time (see furniture from Ancient Greece here). Of course we don't know for sure but we can guess what primitive cave dwellers used to furnish their caves: hides, straw, fire pits...the essentials for sleeping and waking and eating. But there are ancient cultures that have left behind a treasure trove of artifacts. So let's look at one of those cultures for this installment of the History of Furniture.

Thankfully, ancient Egyptian pyramids were buried and hidden by wind, sand, and time. Only when tombs started being discovered in the late 1700's did we, as a modern civilization, begin to see how Egyptians lived, first from depictions and scenes painted on tomb walls, then to finding actual furniture, furnishings, and everyday objects. The Ancient Egyptians believed that once dead, a person's soul lived on in an afterlife where they would need all the personal comforts of life on earth. Since many of the furniture pieces were made from wood, which rots over time, we have a better idea of what they sat on from images on tomb walls. But anything made of metal or stone has of course survived.

Since much of the wood in the immediate area of Egypt was of a soft variety not possessing the characteristics of strength to be made into furniture, they imported wood from surrounding areas like Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. The most common item in an Egyptian household, whether commoner or nobleman, was the stool. It proved practical as it could be moved from place to place as needed. Styles ranged from simple to elaborate. Egyptians were surrounded by a plethora of animals which were very important to their religious beliefs--there are many animal deities in their pantheon of gods and goddesses. All indigenous cultures look to the natural world around them to explain phenomena and creation stories and animal forms play an important part in ritual and everyday objects as well. Therefore, Egyptian stools for the wealthy class had legs fashioned into the feet of animals, whether herd creatures like gazelle or one of the holiest of Egyptian animals, the feline. They ranged from simple pieces made of reed and woven rushes to carved and inlaid wood, but nearly all of them had the typical concave seat that rises to points at each corner.

Seats were more common in wealthier households, and they retained their characteristic animal legs.

Of course the gold seats and thrones that have been discovered in tombs like Tut's are incredible objects studded with stones and featuring relief scenes and carved animals at the seat and arms.

Egyptian architecture reflected the natural world as well with columns representing the lotus, the papyrus, and the palm.

Happy designing!

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