Furniture in the Ancient World: Egypt


Furniture History is a fascinating subject. Learning about furniture evolution gives you a vital understanding of how the craftsmanship of furniture began. The range of styles of furniture grew with the increased knowledge of the craftsmen as new materials and techniques became available, overseas trade and the economic conditions of the country. Furniture range was also dictated by the ruling monarch of the country and the conditions of the era. All those interesting facts about furniture will be described in a new rubric at FurnitureCart Blog.

The furniture of the Old Kingdom of Egypt (2700-2200 B.C.) was largely of stone, and little interest for us. Furniture was even less important in the Middle Kingdom. But for the time of New Kingdom (1570-1090 B.C.), there are many interesting examples of furniture, especially of armchairs, which are regarded as Egypt’s real contribution to furniture.

The furniture of the New Kingdom was small, beautifully designed, and highly ornamented. Carving and wood turning were used in making this furniture. Chairs and stools were often covered with cloth or skins, and the more elaborate ones were decorated with tooled leather. Tables were square, round, or oblong. They were supported either by a pedestal or by three legs. The pedestal or the legs were often carved to represent a bending human form, a symbol of the contempt in which the Egyptians held their slaves and captives. The tops of the tables sometimes had carved inscriptions telling of the owner’s talents or achievements. Emblems of Egyptian gods also appeared on much of the furniture. Some of the more elaborate furniture used in Egypt was made in ancient Ethiopia, where the art of inlay, or decorating by laying a design in the surface, is said to have originated. Ancient records show that this furniture was included in the tribute paid by the Ethiopians to Ramses II, the Egyptian King.

As symbols of strength and power, the Egyptians often carved the legs of their furniture to end in the hoofs of oxen, the pawns of lions, or the talons of hawks. Inlays and carvings were used a great deal, and the designs were patterns of leaves and flowers such as those of lotus, papyrus, date palm, and honeysuckle.  Religious symbols such as the sphinx, the scarab (sacred beetle), the serpent, and the hawk were often used. Color played an important part in all Egyptian decorations, especially red, black, yellow and blue.

Queen Hetep-heres owned the first truly elegant furniture that may be examined in detail: it has been reconstructed with confidence even though the original wood had disintegrated when the queen’s tomb was found by the expedition of Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Ancient Egypt Hetepheres Chair

The finest of Egyptians chairs had been contributed to the burial of Tjuyu and Yuya by their granddaughter, Princess Sit-Amun, who, like her mother Teye, became a queen (and was probably the mother of Tut-ankh-Amun). Sit-Amun’s chair is unique in having portraits of Teye where one might have expected lion knobs. But her contemporaries must often have regarded that formidable lady with the respect usually reserved for a lioness with cubs -and here she is perhaps to be thought of as protecting her daughter.

Ancient Egypt Sitamun Chair

The woods commonly used for Egyptian furniture were cedar, cypress and ebony. Gold, silver and ivory inlays were used for decorations. Furniture pieces used for religious or state ceremonies were often ornamented with precious stones and brilliant enamels.

With help from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Images from Talaria Enterprises