Early Examples Of Furniture
Eastern influence—Early Egyptian—Assyrian—Ancient Greece—Roman furniture—Pompeii and its treasures—Byzantine art—Anglo-Saxon furniture.
THE furniture of the ancients is scarcely recognisable in collections and art galleries. Only here and there do we come across specimens which by some accident of good fortune have been preserved throughout the centuries. In these few isolated examples, however, we can realise that many of the nations possessed home lives, if such they can be said to have had, more complete in necessary comforts than we have hitherto imagined. In estimating what those necessaries consisted of, surrounding influences and the degree of civilisation attained, and especially the arts and crafts understood and practised, must be considered. In written manuscripts, picture paintings, in sculpture and pottery, are discovered not only the types of furniture in use in ancient countries, but their actual form, decoration, and colour.
It is due to religious beliefs and superstitions that many of the best preserved specimens have been handed on to us. The tombs around which so much superstition lingered for centuries, although rifled in modern times, were held sacred by the Ancients for many centuries, and knowledge of their contents was unknown until the present race of men, thirsting for greater knowledge of the past without fear of the consequences, took such relics from their resting-places, and placed them in museums and in private collections. It is obvious that the art of past peoples regarded in the light of modern research and knowledge of art and science, is separated widely from art as it is understood to-day. That early art, so-called, is again subdivided into prehistoric, ancient, and barbarous. Everywhere we look for remains of early races, and for indications of their methods of living; and when we have discovered the relics they have left behind we are apt to judge of these people's status in civilisation by the knowledge of this more enlightened age.
Commencing his chapter on prehistoric furniture the author of a very interesting work says :—" Mother Earth originally sufficed for bed, chair, and sideboard." That is true indeed, for the most primitive furniture must have been the outcome of the dissatisfaction of man, who as he ate the more of the " tree of knowledge " was no longer content with Mother Earth as universal provider.
It is probable that all primitive nations left alone and untrammelled by outside influences advanced, although slowly, as time went on. The advance would be controlled and guided by their surroundings and gradually acquired habits, together with the progress suggested by their discoveries of natural resources. We know that was the case in our own country, for the relics of the so-called Stone Age are far behind those of the Bronze Age. From the Bronze Age onward there was always some communication with other tribes and with people of more advanced civilisation, and from that time the progress was more or less influenced by contact with others. The craftsmen of the Western World have from very early days received some inspiration from the influences of a greater civilisation eastwards.
It may be interesting to discover from the furniture collector's point of view what the conditions prevailing in this country were before that outside influence was felt.
In order to gain a clear insight into the actual domestic surroundings of early tribes, it is advisable wherever possible to secure reliable data from actual remains. During the last few years some important excavations have been made in England, resulting in an additional store of reliable knowledge of how the early inhabitants of Britain lived at given periods of history. Not long ago accounts were published of excavations at Hengistbury Head, in Hampshire, where a large number of flint implements, mostly of the Neolithic period, have been found. The barrows on the Head have yielded fine examples of Bronze Age pottery. Excavations have, however, revealed the site of an important settlement, showing that the people lived in huts made of wattle and daub, the floors being of beaten clay. As indicating domesticity and a degree of skill in weaving, it was found that large jars had been sunk in the ground, apparently for the storage of corn, and there were quite a number of loom weights and spindle whorls, but of whatever there might have been in the way of furniture, as we under-stand the term to-day, all traces had disappeared, not-withstanding that there were unmistakable indications of the occupants of the huts possessing some knowledge of the refining of iron and the working of bronze and tin. In the remains of such early days we have to be content with crude pottery, as indicating domestic furnishings.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )