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Early Egyptian Furniture

It seems natural that we should look for some guiding influence on the furniture trade among the numerous remains of ancient Egypt, and although the result of one's research is somewhat disappointing, and the few examples possessed in the British Museum scanty in the extreme, there is abundant evidence that the people of Egypt in early times possessed far handsomer chairs and seats than other nations then in an advanced state of civilisation. As judged from those specimens in the British Museum most of the seats and stools used by the early Egyptians were without backs, although cushions seem to have been provided at a very early date. Folding stools of wood, richly inlaid, have been met with among the relics of ancient Egypt, some beautiful examples having been brought from Thebes. According to statues and other records during the later dynasties backs were added to the chairs of State. They were at first quite upright, but afterwards slightly sloping.

We owe the preservation of much that is interesting among the relics of ancient Egypt to beliefs not unlike some of those which caused the ancient Britons to put in the burying-places of their chiefs replicas of the common objects of everyday use. The Egyptians believed in a future state, and had a deep-seated faith in the literal return of the spirit to the body. It was for that reason that the Egyptians mummified their dead and provided actual supplies and furnishings, or in some instances miniature copies of household necessaries, which they interred with the corpse. It is from these and the paintings preserved by that wonderful climate that more is known about the home life of the ancient Egyptians than of any other races of antiquity.

In the British Museum there are quite a number of chair legs and couch ends, but the examples in the Cairo Museum are far more numerous, and consist of a greater variety of form and ornament. In the British Museum there are a few examples of well-preserved chairs and stools, and from them we are satisfied that the Egyptians aimed at solidity, and to a certain extent at comfort. Their ornament was copied from the human figure, and those living organisms, animal and vegetable, with which they were familiar. To them their symbols were quite understandable, for they were drawn from Nature. The Egyptian artist was familiar with his much-loved Nile, and the plants growing on its banks. What more natural than that he should take the lotus flower and carve or paint it upon the chair he was fashioning. This he did, taking his model in its different stages of growth, from the bud to the opened flower. He placed a jar of reeds and palms by his side as he worked, and in his colouring he ever kept in mind the sand and the mud, baked hard and dry on the sun-kissed banks of the Nile.

In the tombs of Egypt we find the earliest examples, and many of these have been removed for greater safety to the Museum at Cairo and to museums in other countries. In the British Museum may be seen the remains of the throne of Queen Hatshepsu—looking very much like the frame of an old weather and time-worn chair, its legs not unlike the human leg in form—a valuable relic indeed, for it is said to be the oldest piece of furniture in the world. In the same case where it is displayed there is an inlaid stool in very good condition, and a square-topped taper frame or stand of painted wood. There are also some minor pieces and sundry remains of chairs and couches.

It is, however, from other resources of research that we are able to affirm with certainty that Egyptian furniture included folding stools and couches with seats of leather and plaited rushes, over which were thrown skins of panthers and other animals. The artists of Egypt and Nineveh understood painting, turning, inlaying, veneering, and cane work, and they were by no means far behind craftsmen who achieved fame in those arts thousands of years later.

In addition to the furniture from Egypt and Babylon there are interesting relics of the tools by which they were made, for under the foundations of many temples have been discovered the votive offerings of workmen ; when laying foundation stones those who were to work upon the buildings to be erected thereon placed under them tools to propitiate the spirits of the temple, who were asked to assist the craftsmen who were working then, and who would work in years to come.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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