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Chair leg

Chair leg

  • Place of origin:

    Egypt (made)

  • Date:

    1550–1070 BC (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wood, carved

  • Credit Line:

    Lent by the Trustees of the British Museum

  • Museum number:

    LOAN:BM.1065-2012

  • Gallery location:

    Furniture, Room 135, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery, case BY6, shelf CASE1

This beautifully carved chair leg is unusual for having escaped damage during nineteenth-century excavations. The extant back left leg of a chair, it is carved to represent the leg of a lion, set on a drum. Its form, as well as traces of blue paint found on it, indicate that the chair may have belonged to someone with royal status. Royal chairs found in New Kingdom (c. 1550 BC -1070 BC) tombs, such as the resplendent examples found in the Tomb of Tutankhamun, who was Pharaoh from 1336 BC-1324 BC, display similar lion-shaped legs set on drums, and were often elaborately painted and embellished with materials such as gold sheet, coloured stones, or ivory.

Physical description

Back left leg of a chair. Carved from a single piece of wood to represent the leg of a lion, set on a drum. At the top are fragments of two pegged tenons where the chair rails were tenoned to it. With traces of blue paint.

On the inner face of the leg, the three peg holes would have been used to secure a delicately jointed reinforcing bracket below the seat.

Wood identification Acacia sp., acacia was carried out October 2012 by Dr Caroline Cartright, wood anatomist (scientist) at the British Museum.

Place of Origin

Egypt (made)

Date

1550–1070 BC (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Wood, carved

Dimensions

Height: 40.5 cm

Object history note

On loan from the British Museum, from November 2012
Donated by George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnrvon
Dept.: Ancient Egypt and Sudan
Registration no. 1909,0813.1

This beautifully carved chair leg is unusual for having escaped damage during nineteenth-century excavations. The extant back left leg of a chair, it is carved to represent the leg of a lion, set on a drum. Its form, as well as traces of blue paint found on it, indicate that the chair may have belonged to someone with royal status. Royal chairs found in New Kingdom (c. 1550 BC -1070 BC) tombs, such as the resplendent examples found in the Tomb of Tutankhamun, who was Pharaoh from 1336 BC-1324 BC, display similar lion-shaped legs set on drums, and were often elaborately painted and embellished with materials such as gold sheet, coloured stones, or ivory.

By the time of the New Kingdom, the quality of Egyptian furniture was renowned throughout the ancient world and was often sent as gifts to rulers of neighbouring countries. Furniture discovered in the Tomb of Tutankhamun show the outstanding design and construction achieved by the carpenters of the period. By then, carpenters were no longer squatting on their workshop floors, but sat on three-legged stools and worked at specially designed benches, which helped them hold and cut their work. They used a wide range of tools, including try squares, straight edges, cubit rods, and mitre-cutting aids, as well as adzes, axes, bow-drills, chisels, mallets, sandstone rubbers, and copper pull-saws. The principal woods used for furniture were native timbers such as acacia, sycamore fig, tamarisk and sidder. Woods such as cedar, cypress and juniper were imported from Syria, and ebony, or African blackwood, came from countries to the south.

From early on, Egyptian carpenters understood the physical properties of timber and the concept of joinery. They constructed wooden elements into one of three forms— the box, the frame, and the stool, exploiting two principles: a timber's strength is along the grain and not across it, and the shrinkage of timber is negligible along the grain. With the introduction of copper woodworking tools, New Kingdom carpenters were able to carve and cut sophisticated joints in wood, which had been previously impossible to achieve. We see the use of the mortise and tenon, butt, lap or rebated butt, halving, bridle, dovetail, mitre, coopered and scarf joints.

This chair leg clearly exhibits the high quality of New Kingdom joinery. The exposed mortise and tenon joint shows the remains of the pegged seat rail clasping the tenon.

Historical context note

A substantial amount of wooden furniture from Ancient Egypt has survived intact due to the dry climate of the Nile valley and the desire of Ancient Egyptians to elaborately furnish their tombs for the afterlife with objects such as wooden chairs, stools, beds, and chests. This furniture was a combination of specifically designed funerary objects, often of an inferior quality, and better quality household items that were often modified for the tomb upon the death of the individual with additions such as inscriptions of religious text.

Descriptive line

Carved wooden chair leg with broken tenons at the top

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Geoffrey Killen, "Egyptian Furniture" http://pcwww.liv.ac.uk/~killen/history.htm, 1-4 accessed 11/01/2011
Geoffrey Killen
"Woodworking" http://pcwww.liv.ac.uk/~killen/history.htm, 1-4 accessed 11/01/2011

Geoffrey Killen, Egyptian Woodworking and Furniture (Buckinghamshire, 1994)
Killen, G.P., "Furniture" and "Woodworking," The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt (New York, 2001), 516-519 and 580-586
Killen, G.P. ed. Paul T. Nicholson and Ian Shaw, "Woodworking," Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology (Cambridge, 2000), 353-371
Killen, G.P., Ancient Egyptian Furniture, Volume II, Boxes, Chests and Footstools (Warminster Wiltshire, 1994)
Killen, G.P., Ancient Egyptian Furniture, Volume I, 4000-1300 BC (Warminster Wiltshire, 1980)

Labels and date

Chair leg
About 1550–1070 BC (New Kingdom)

Egypt
Acacia with traces of blue paint

Lent by the Trustees of the British Museum
Museum no. Loan:BM.1065-2012

All the basic joinery techniques were in use by about 1200 BC. This is the back left leg of a chair, possibly a royal chair, constructed with ingenuity and precision. The exposed mortise-and-tenon shows the remains of the pegged seat rail surrounding the tenon. The joint was supported by a wooden bracket secured by pegs into the leg and seat rail. [01/12/2012]

Materials

Acacia

Techniques

Carving

Categories

Furniture; Woodwork

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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