History of the chair

The chair is of great antiquity, although for many centuries and indeed for thousands of years it was an article of state and self-respect rather than an article of normal use. “The chair” is still widely used as the emblem of authority in the House of Commons and in public meetings. It was not, in fact, until the 16th century that it became common anywhere. The chest, the bench and the stool were until then the ordinary seats of everyday life, and the number of chairs which have survived from an earlier date is exceedingly limited; most of such examples are of clerical or seigniorial origin. Our knowledge of the chairs of remote antiquity is derived almost entirely from monuments, sculpture and paintings. A few actual examples exist in the British Museum, in the Egyptian museum at Cairo, and elsewhere.

Egyptian chairs

In ancient Egypt chairs appear to have been of great richness and splendor. Fashioned of ebony and- ivory, or of stamped and gilded wood, they were covered with costly materials and supported upon representations of the legs of beasts or the figures of captives. An arm-chair in fine protection found in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings is astonishingly similar, even in small details, to that "Empire" style which followed Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt. The initial monuments of Nineveh represent a chair without a back but with tastefully carved legs ending in lions’ claws or bulls’ hoofs. Others are supported by figures in the nature of caryatides or by animals.

Greek and Roman chairs
The initial known form of Greek chair, going back to five or six centuries before Christ, had a back but stood straight up, front and back. On the fresco of the Parthenon Zeus occupies a square seat with a bar-back and thick turned legs; it is bejeweled with winged sphinxes and the feet of beasts. The characteristic Roman chairs were of marble, also adorned with sphinxes. The curule chair was initially very similar in form to the modern folding chair, but finally received a good deal of ornament. The most renowned of the very few chairs which have come down from a remote antiquity is the reputed chair of St. Peter in St Peter's Basilica at Rome. The wooden portions are much moldy, but it would appear to be Byzantine work of the 6th century, and to be really an ancient sedia gestatoria.