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Monday, October 24, 2011

A Brief History of Interior Design and Decoration (Part One) Ancient Egypt

HAPPY MONDAY, sweet friends!!!! I am a little later at getting to my computer than I had anticipated. I was hoping to have this post up before noon, but the morning got away from me and it was time to get our breakfast and start the homescool day before I knew it. I hope that you will enjoy this little series on Design History from my blog. As I mentioned in my last post, this was a little book that I put together for a History of Interior Design class at the University of Charleston around 2003 and it was one of my favorite college courses and class projects while I was there. My View Book contained many images, but I will not be posting those here as I am concerned about violating any copyright laws. I will post appropriate links of interest that you may want to visit if you would like to see examples of the type of styles of which my posts might reference. The first installment is on Ancient Egypt and covers a period from 4500 BC to around 30 AD. It is a little long for a blog post and I had thought about breaking it up into 2-3 posts, but decided that I would go ahead and post it all as I want to complete this series within three months or so with once a week posts. Without further delay, here is my first installment:

Ancient Egypt 4500 BC-30 AD

Ancient Egypt is often referred to as the “Cradle of Civilization”. The architects and artisans responsible for the buildings and furnishings used by the inhabitants of this land took inspiration from nature and religion in their designs. The Nile River Valley was rich and supplied an abundant array of date palms, pomegranates and papyrus along with the beauty of water lotus blossoms. The seasons of flooding and draught that brought life to all of these natural treasures had an influence on every area of Egyptian life and on the materials that were available for the creation of monuments, homes and furnishings in this area of the world.

The three seasons of flooding, seeding and harvest created a sense of continual existence throughout Egyptian culture. The very sun was considered as a god and was represented with an image given the name of Ra in Egyptian  religion. As astronomers of the time began to notice that the sun and moon followed the same repetition as the seasons of the river they began to equate these cycles with the idea that all life is ever lasting. To the Egyptians the afterlife was their fourth and final season. The gods that were worshipped by this ancient people are represented by natural beings and phenomenon. Large, splendid temples were built to these gods were filled with pictorial messages about these beliefs. Rulers of the Egyptian world were considered to be gods and, therefore, even in death were given great monuments for their passage to the after world. The great pyramids are perhaps the most identifiable example of Egyptian architecture are said to have been designed in a triangular configuration to point the sarcophagus to the final destination and to draw energy from the sun for their journey. Inside the tomb there were chambers for the deceased and their many earthly possessions, passages along the inside that lead to the chamber and away from it and areas with corbelled, or stacked, walls.

In addition to the pyramids the great temples nearby exhibited the use of hieroglyphic symbols on almost every surface of the structure. The symbols each held great meaning and were used to convey important messages to all that observed them. The range of symbols is endless as well as the combinations they were used in which often altered their basic meaning. Such symbols include the serpent seen as a badge of royalty, the lotus flower that represented purity, the scarab signifying eternal life, and the sun disk and vulture with outstretched wings that were seen as signs of protection. The structure of the great temples was generally symmetrical and based on an axial plan around a central line. At the entrance of the temple there were usually statues, several sphinxes, or a pair of obelisks followed by a courtyard area. The hypostyle hall beyond the courtyard was supported by many columns and each progressive chamber was held to be more private and sanctified. Just above this area was a clerestory with openings to allow light to pass through. Light also entered from the roof through a series of light holes cut into the roof. The walls of these ancient temples were constructed primarily with stones cut in precise squared ashlars. The sphinx, a creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human, became a form of monument in its own right as well as the tall tapered obelisk carved of rose granite. The obelisk form is still used in modern times and was the model for the Washington monument in Washington, DC.

Homes of the Egyptian people varied from very simple one room units with a door at one end and a window opening at the other to affluent homes with several rooms on various levels. These houses were built with rubble stone or mud brick and the only thing that changed with affluence was that the bricks for the homes built for the wealthy were fired. A common feature in almost all Egyptian houses was an open area on the roof of the building to permit the dwellers to sleep outside during hot nights. Houses were furnished with a selection of either built in or free standing pieces. Built in pieces were an important component of mud brick houses and took many forms. These included a type of dining table and seating bench called the dais and mastaba along with storage areas that were carved into masonry walls. Movable furnishings were generally owned by more well-to-do members of society because of the cost of materials used to construct these pieces.

Although the banks of the Nile provided wonderful crops as previously mentioned, as well as flax and cotton for fabrics, there was not an abundance of trees for construction of buildings or furniture. The wood that was used in furnishings for homes and temples came from their native acacia, sycamore and willow trees and imported ebony and cedar wood. The Egyptian craftsmen brought the art of wood joinery into existence with a series of methods for strengthening the wood at connecting joints to reduce the effect of warping over time. The attention to detail that resulted in quality pieces that would last sprung from the idea that the owner would need these furnishings in the after life. The joints included methods that are still used today such as dovetail, mortise and tenon, miter joint and double shoulder mitering. The joints were nailed or pegged for added strength  and topped with metal clamps.

The ceremonial chairs owned by royalty were often covered in gold leaf with inlays of ebony, ivory precious stones and pieces of a colorful glass like pottery that became known as Egyptian faience in patterns of hieroglyph symbols. Other less ornate furnishings used by the wealthy were decked with legs that were carved from wood to resemble the hind legs of animals, stools with stationary crossed legs carved in the shape of duck bills that appeared fold, and chests for storage. Another noteworthy piece of furniture was the sloping bed that had a footboard and a headrest of glass or metal. The headrest was shaped so that the head could rest when the user was sleeping on their side to protect hair styles and allowed for better circulation of air in hot desert climates.

The people of ancient Egypt used their resources to add comfort and beauty to their culture and daily lives. The forms of their architecture and developments in art and wood crafting created a standard for many generations to aspire toward and learn from. Civilization appears to have, indeed, sprung forth from the River Nile and the accomplishments of the Egyptian culture will be seen repeatedly throughout future civilizations.

For more information and photo examples of the styles and structures mentioned in my little article above, you can visit the All About Egypt travel site as they have some wonderful information and images there. I hope you are having a blessed day! Hope to post a Daybook entry tomorrow!

God Bless and Stay Cozy,

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