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Department of Egyptian Antiquities: The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)
© 1985 RMN / Chuzeville
The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)
This chair was part of an astonishing collection of antiquities formed between 1819 and 1824 by Henry Salt (then British consul in Egypt), acquired by the Louvre in 1826 on the advice of Jean-François Champollion. Nothing, however, is known of where it was found. While it is of a type very common in the New Kingdom, its proportions and state of preservation are exceptional.
A remarkably well-preserved object
This chair has several remarkable features. In the first place, one might well wonder at the fresh appearance of an object supposedly 3,500 years old. Yet it is not a reproduction. The blue paint on the feet may have been restored, and the leather seat is modern, but all the rest is old. Its state can only be explained by its not having been handled since the time of its first use, around 1400–1300 BC. And this is indeed the case: it was deposited in the chamber of a tomb which survived inviolate, protected all that time from the depredations of humans, animals, and mold. The dry climate of the Egyptian desert is better suited than anywhere else on earth to the miraculous preservation of such artefacts in organic materials.
A sophisticated piece of furniture
This has the typical features of Egyptian chairs of pharaonic times: the relatively low seat and the lion’s-paw feet. The design of the back is of a type fashionable in the New Kingdom. Inclined and rolled backward at the top, it is strengthened by vertical supports. Like the supports, the back is provided with corner-plates whose elegant outline softens the angle between back and seat. Very elegant too is the curve in the center following the line of the back. The use of two woods in different shades, one light and one dark, enlivens the appearance of the wood surface, and has even been extended to the use dowel pegs of contrasting tone. The blue paint on the feet may have been restored in the 19th century, when the chair came to Europe. The color itself, however, was certainly in use in the New Kingdom: a tomb in the Valley of the Kings has a painting of a chair with similar blue feet.
Ancient Egypt and the Directoire style
The artists who accompanied Napoleon’s exhibition to Egypt and copied the paintings in the Valley of the Kings in 1799 could hardly have imagined that a real chair of this kind would appear in the Louvre. Acquired in Egypt by the British consul Henry Salt between 1819 and 1824, it was sold to the Louvre together with more than 4,000 other pieces. Contemporary enthusiasts in France for things Egyptian could not help but be impressed by this chair, so close to the Directoire style with its feet and curved roll back. For once, the vision of antiquity, part reconstruction and part dream, that had informed the taste of the late 18th century had found confirmation in ancient evidence.
BibliographyLe Louvre, trésors du plus grand musée du monde, Collectif, Paris, 1991, p.73.
Le Louvre, Guide des collections, Collectif, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 1989, p.122.
New Kingdom, 18th or 19th Dynasty, 1550-1186 BC
Wood, unpainted and painted, with ivory inlays and modern leather strapping; seat originally in rope or wickerwork
H. 91 cm; W. 47.50 cm; D. 59 cm
Henry Salt Collection, purchased 1826
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