Armchair After a Throne Painted on Rameses III’s Tomb Wall

September 7 2011, 4:48pm

Armchair After a Throne Painted on the Wall of the Tomb of Rameses III

This French, circa 1805 armchair after a throne painted on the wall of the tomb of Rameses III’s is made of carved and painted wood. The scrolling back with velvet upholstery flanked by posts decorated with bands of ziggurat decoration with stylised plant motifs. This fascinating chair provides an extraordinary example of the influence of Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign on the decorative arts in the first decade of the nineteenth centry. The chair is faithfully reconstructed after a watercolour by the French artist André Dutertre (figure 1) depicting a series of thrones copied from the wall paintings in the fifth tomb of the Kings to the East at biban al Maluk, Thebes.1 Dutertre was one of the official artists who accompanied Napoleon’s forces on their Egyptian campaign, and the series of chairs was reproduced in the Description de L’Egypte (Volume II, Plate 89). The Description, published from 1803 onwards by order of the Emperor himself, superseded Donimique-Vivant Denon’s record of the campaign, his Voyage dans la Basse et al Haute Egypte, as the definitive contemporary work of Egyptology. The archaeological accuracy of this piece sets it apart from the work of designers such as Thomas Hope in England and Percier and Fontaine in France. Whilst making use of Egyptian motifs, most designers of the period were concerned with creating a stylistic interpretation of Egypt rather than attempting historically accurate reconstructions from archaeological evidence. By contrast, the present chair is faithful to the original wall painting in both its proportion and decoration. Even the original fabric in which it is upholstered corresponds exactly to that covering another of the chairs illustrated by Dutertre in the Description. There remain very few examples of furniture designed after ancient Egyptian prototypes, perhaps the most famous being a pair of armchairs and a bed commissioned by Denon and executed by Jacob-Desmalter.