Side chair of an unidentified hardwood

Typical 18th Dynasty side chair of an unidentified hardwood, having legs imitating the fore and hind legs of a lion. It has a high sloping back hollowed to fit the occupant’s back. Ornamentation consists of alternation of light and dark wood and nine inlays of bone or ivory simulating broad headed nails of no constructional value.

Construction is accomplished through joinery, gluing, and wooden pegs. It is in a good condition. Several separations running with the grain of the wood. Most evident are, right front leg, frame of seat right front, and right back foot has been attached to leg by gluing. Back left has separation.

Side chair of an unidentified hardwood
Side chair of an unidentified hardwood

Due to drying and shrinkage almost all joining places show slight to extensive separations. The several curved bracket braces are damaged and in some cases incomplete condition. Several wooden pegs are missing. Chip missing, upper left back edge.

A carpenter manufactured this chair using wooden mortises and tenons (tongue and groove joints) and pins called dowels. Many of the ancient wooden dowels are still visible just above the point where the legs meet the seat.

The carpenter filled in the spaces surrounding the tenons on the back support with an adhesive made from animal protein (“hide glue”) mixed with powdered white minerals.

Egyptian chair from the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom period of ancient Egypt.
Egyptian chair

A fine chair like this was a mark of high status in ancient Egypt. Wood was rare and expensive and most people squatted on the ground.

It is in wonderful condition, largely due to the consistently dry climate of Egypt and the darkness inside of tombs. That same dryness did shrink the wood a bit producing the gaps you see.

Although animal-based adhesives have been used in Egypt continuously from antiquity to today, the condition of these mortises and tenons suggests that they are original.

The woven fiber seat was added to the chair in 1958, but examination of fibers in the frames reveals that in antiquity four strands were laced through each opening.

A scientific test would need to be done to determine the species of wood, so we’re not sure. We do know that it is a hard wood. An example of a hardwood that may have been used is cypress.

This style of chair was popular in 18th Dynasty, at this time chairs were mostly armless and featured the back set into the seat just before the rear legs.

The legs of the chair are meant to imitate the front and hind legs of a lion, most ancient Egyptian chairs included feet like this. Lions were a popular symbol of power in ancient Egyptian art.

In ancient Egypt, lions were revered for their power and were believed to be tied to royal authority. Lions often represented the horizon as the desert habitat linked them with the rising and setting sun and the eastern and western margins of the universe.

  • New Kingdom, Second half of the 18th Dynasty, ca. 1400-1292 BC.
  • Now in the Brooklyn Museum. 37.40E