This post is inspired by my visit to the King Tut Exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The furniture was in exceptional condition, and well displayed in glass cases so I could get a good look at it. The desert climate of Egypt and obscurity of Tut’s tomb even preserved the woven rush webbing of the bed.
The furniture of Tut’s tomb is representative of furniture owned by Egyptian elite, only much more elaborate. It’s not more elaborate only because it belonged to a king, but because it was made for use in the afterlife. Ancient Egyptians were pretty much obsessed with the idea of life after death. After the physical body died, the “ba” (a combination of the spirit, soul and personality) lived on for eternity and required all the trappings of life. Because these items were to be used for the rest of time, they had to be of a quality that would last – both as an object and in aesthetic appreciation.
This chair is an interesting example because its design is similar to a fixed stool, but was obviously designed to have a back attached. It is most likely acacia wood – a very resilient species found in North Africa and the Middle East. After carving, it was painted with gesso and then gilded.
The seat is double coved in form, which is common for fixed stools. The form harkens back to folding stools with x shaped legs that would have been covered with a leather seat. The seat retains this form because of the royal associations of the stool.
The legs are those of lions. This transfers the symbolic power of the animal to the sitter. Notice that not only are the feet facing forward, but they are anatomically correct. The front paws still have dew claws and the rear legs bend appropriately at the knee and ankle. They are raised off the floor by a drum so the symbolic chair would not rest upon the dirt.
The legs are joined by perimeter stretchers which bind decorative panels. The openwork is of intertwined papyrus and lotus, which represents the unification of northern and southern Egypt.
The inclined back is characteristic of later chairs. The profile of an open triangle is formed by the decorative back and three struts that attach the seat rail to the crest of the chair.
The bed displays features common to ancient Egyptian beds. Notice that it has the lion paw on drum foot design of the chair. The direction these feet point indicate the front of the bed. As with most Egyptian beds, the head is open and the decorative piece is the footboard. It also dips in the middle and the head end is raised higher than the foot. The bed surface is woven through slots punched in the rails.