however, the elegant work takes precedence because in general it has been the best preserved. In addition, elaborate designs reveal the most about a period because high style changes more frequently than other styles to reflect new ideas. The simplest work, made for the farmer or laborer, tends to be more purely functional and timeless; tables and chairs used by working people in 1800 bc are surprisingly like tables and chairs in farmhouses of ad 1800. Dutch genre paintings of the 1600s and early 19th-century American paintings depict rural interiors that often look remarkably similar.



Reconstruction of the prehistoric house with any certainty is impossible, although all indications are that it contained furniture. A history of furniture begins with a discussion of the oldest surviving examples: those from the 4th Dynasty (2575-2467 bc) to the 6th Dynasty (2323-2152 bc) of Old Kingdom Egypt.


Egyptian Furniture

The dry Egyptian climate and elaborate burial procedures are in part responsible for the survival of pieces, which include stools, tables, chairs, and couches. In addition, wall paintings give insight into the design of Egyptian furniture. With respect to both design and construction, the methods used in ancient Egypt are followed wherever furniture is made today. For large pieces, particularly seating and tables, the mortise-and-tenon construction familiar in ancient Egypt is still in use, although the tenon may be replaced by a dowel to expedite production. The sides of more delicate boxes and chests were joined by dovetailing, a technique that persists in contemporary work. One ancient Egyptian stool illustrated on a wooden panel (2800? bc, Egyptian Museum, Cairo) from the tomb of Hesire has animal legs as the supports. It does not differ much from a chair (1325? bc, Egyptian Museum) from the tomb of the New Kingdom pharaoh Tutankhamen.
A chair, table, couch, and canopy (2550? bc, Egyptian Museum) from the tomb of the 4th Dynasty queen Hetepheres at Giza were reconstructed from remnants of their original gold sheathing. They have animal legs, a solid chair back, and arm supports of openwork panels in papyrus patterns. The bed, higher at the head, has a headrest and a footboard. The relief decoration on some of the furniture consists of symbols of gods and scenes of religious significance. Other surviving tables and stools are restrained in design, with legs that are beautifully made but plain. It is conceivable that the pieces were originally ornamented with stamped metal sheathing, but wall paintings also illustrate simple upholstered pieces.
Extant examples and illustrations from wall paintings suggest the broad scope of decoration used on furniture. Gold sheets were applied to legs of chairs and tables; inlays of ivory and other materials were employed on panels of chests and other surfaces. The motifs of forms with legs as anthropomorphic and of storage pieces as buildings in miniature were popular in ancient Egypt and in succeeding cultures. See Egyptian Art and Architecture.


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