Menushopping cart
Tools for Working Wood
Invest in your craft. Invest in yourself.

 Joel's Blog

Sleep Like an Egyptian

04/08/2015

Every since I was a kid I have been fascinated by this Egyptian funeral bier which is on exhibit in the Egyptian wing of the Met. Over the years, with each shifting of the galleries, it has been moved hither and yon but fortunately it is still on display. Dating from the Dynasty 1-2 about 2966-2926 BC (about 5000 year ago), its use of bull hoofs as feet is both functional and elegant. They have other biers of similar style on display, including ones of ivory. The front of the biers have bull forelegs and the backs have the rear legs. The mortise and tenon joinery is of coarse familiar to use and in fact the structure is entire familiar. But what it makes it, at least for me, this piece that has drawn my eye for nearly a half century, is the imagining of the bier as an animal. Not some plain post, but a person is on top of an bull. Now these are funeral biers for carrying the body into the tomb (I think before mummification but I am not sure) and it makes sense to be riding a bull. I think also that the use of bull feet was also done on beds for the living but again I am not sure. But also look at the power in the foot. It's not really stylized. Five thousand years ago, using bronze and copper tools, some skilled craftsman carved this object and for all that I don't live on the Nile, and that we don't have herds of bulls roaming Grand Army Plaza I can still connect with it. And a modern bed, higher up and larger, with similarly carved (and maybe painted hoofs - would be totally awesome.


The ivory Madonna and child in this picture was something I noticed as my son and i were wandering through the medieval wing. While in comparison to the Egyptian bier, at only 900 years old, this sculpture is brand new. What stuck me is how tender and affectionate the mother and child are. The baby is reaching up to cluck his mothers chin (the photo doesn't do this justice) and they are both enjoying each others' company.

Of course that these objects have survived so long is amazing, but for me what truly is wonderful is the emotional contact the creators have made with me over eons of time.
Make something special, make something worthwhile, make something, as functional as furniture, and it can touch people, cheer them up, and enrich their lives for generations, maybe even for thousands of years to come.
Join the conversation
04/08/2015 Jeff Brinkman
Joel, you aren't imaging the bull association. The Egyptians worshipped a Bull deity, called the Apis Bull, who was (among other things) an intermediary between the worlds of the living and the dead. Bulls and cows were often buried after a ritual sacrifice as part of the worshipping. Although the Apis Bull isn't much mentioned before the 2nd Dynasty, it would make sense that a funeral bier would have bull's feet. Pretty cool.
04/08/2015 Nick
It's not a bier, its a real bed.

http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/furniture.htm

They had a slope, and they used head rests instead of pillows.

I was in the British Museum the other day, and they had a recent headrest, used by nomadic tribesman when herding animals and camping out. Stops the scorpions from getting on their face.
The museum lists it as a bier. The beds, as I understand their captions were of similar design but larger
Comments are closed.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.