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Work Detachable headrest
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Objects from everyday life
© 1992 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski
Objects from everyday life
Although the headrest or "bed-head" is hardly used in the modern world, this little furniture item looks surprisingly modern, practical, and elegant-as do many pieces of furniture from Pharaonic Egypt.
A functional and elegant piece of furniture
This supple yet firm headrest was assembled by fitting two indented pieces of wood together; it must have been considerably more stable than those which consisted of a central pillar on an oblong base. The reassuring impression of stability is reinforced by the design of the legs: two pairs of clawed feet, which grasp the little crosspiece that joins them. The feline paw was a frequent decorative motif in Egyptian furniture that was perfectly compatible with a functional structure. Two little ivory inlays join in the center, where the two sections meet. The claws are also inlaid with ivory, which stands out vividly against the red-brown wood.
Sleeping with a headrest
The headrest was a common item of furniture in Pharaonic antiquity. During the Old Kingdom, its form was inspired by the pillars of large-scale architecture. Some headrests were made of stone and may have been specially produced for tombs. During the first half of the New Kingdom, in the 18th Dynasty, it was customary for the deceased to be buried with his belongings, so many authentic furniture items from this period have survived, with traces of wear to prove that they really were used in houses. The curved neck rest of this piece appears to be polished by use.
A chapter from the Book of the Dead: the formula for the headrest
In the New Kingdom Book of the Dead, one chapter (43, according to Egyptologists' numbering scheme) is illustrated with the image of a headrest. The text of one version is as follows:
"The Chapter of Not Letting the Head of a Man Be Cut Off from His Body in Khert-Neter
The Osiris Ani saith: I am a Great One, the son of a Great One. [I am] Fire, the son of Fire, to whom was given his head after it had been cut off. The head of Osiris was not removed from his body, and the head of Osiris Ani shall not be removed from his body. I have knitted myself together, I have made myself whole and complete. I shall renew my youth. I am Osiris Himself, the Lord of Eternity." (translated by E. A. Wallis Budge)
The headrest was the natural place of protection for the deceased's head. During the Middle Kingdom, it was placed under the head of the mummy. During the Late Period, a hematite amulet in the form of a headrest was inserted into the wrappings under the mummy's neck.
New Kingdom, 1550-1069 BC
Wood with ivory inlay
H. 27.3 cm; W. 7.4 cm
Purchase, Clot Bey collection, 1852
Home and furniture
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