A chair is an artifact that has been there from the ancient times. For many centuries, rather thousands of years, it has been used as a status symbol. In fact, it is still used widely in public meetings & the British House of Commons as an emblem of authority. The chair became commonly used in the 16th century. Most of the chairs from ancient times are not present today but our knowledge of them has been derived from paintings, monuments and sculptures.
The Egyptian Chairs
The chairs in the ancient Egypt were full of richness and splendor. The chairs were enriched with ebony and ivory or carved golden wood. They were covered with pricey materials and were supported with representations of beasts or shapes of captives. According to the Egyptian belief, chairs needed to be close to natural forms so that chaos in the universe could be avoided. Even Egyptian art and other manufacture is seen to follow this tendency. The monuments of Nineveh have a carving of chair without a back whose legs are intricately carved in the form of claws of lions or hoofs of bulls.
The Greeks and Roman Chairs
Greek’s earliest chairs are from six to seven century B.C. Zeus occupies a square seat with thick turned legs and a back with a bar. The chair is adorned with winged sphinxes and beasts’ feat. Roman chairs of that time were made of marble and were also ornamented with sphinxes. The most famous chair that have been preserved through the ages is the Chair of Saint Peter kept in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome. The works on the chair appear to be that of Byzantine in the 6th century. It has carvings of ivory that represent the labors of Hercules. It is believed that this was the curile chair of senator Pudens. Chair is exhibited only once every century. The chair has carvings of lion’s head and Nike (winged figures of Victory).
The Mexican Chairs
A kind of chair of ancient Mexico is mentioned by Jacques Soustelle and is known as icpalli. This chair is seen in Diego Rivera’s painting of Aztec market in Tlateloco and is kept in the Mexico City.
The Medieval Chairs
In the cathedral of Ravenna you will find the chair of Maximian which is believed to be from the middle of 6th century. It is made of marble and is round having a high back. It has carvings of saints and scenes from Gospels on it. The oldest cathedra that is still in use is the ‘Chair of St. Augustine’. The ‘Chair of Dagobert’ which is kept in the Louvre is another ancient seat. It is casted in bronze, chisel sharpened and has slightly brownish gold color.
Other great chairs of that time include the abbot’s chair of Glastonbury. These chairs were easily assembled and portable if the owners travelled. The most famous and ancient English chair is the one made at the end of 13th century for Edward I. Most subsequent monarchs have been crowned on it
The Chinese Chairs
It was not until the Tang Dynasty(618-907 AD) that the major sitting positions of the Han Chinese culture like Japanese Culture, Turkic Culture, Korean Culture and Tai Kadi Cultures were seiza and the lotus position on the sitting mats or floor. The earliest paintings of China indicating chairs are from 6th century but it was not until twelfth century that the chairs became popular in China. Scholars are not sure how chairs came into China. Some say it came from Central Asia, some say it was introduced by Nestorian missionaries and some say it came from India.
The Renaissance chairs
It was due to Renaissance that the chair became a commodity available for anyone who could buy it. The chairs during this era underwent a lot of changes. Chairs of different sizes and shapes came as the fashion kept on changing for men as well as women. The major chairs throughout the 17th century were made of timber. Cushions and leather were used extensively for the chairs. France the bergere chair became very fashionable among the noblemen of this period. Leather which was used frequently in this era is used till date as a covering for chairs.
The English Chairs
The English furniture derives extensively from foreign, especially French & Italian models. New experiments were made with larger variety. The squat chairs with heavy backs were carved which gave place to a taller, slender and more elegant chairs in which the framework was carved. The most decorative of all the chairs were made in England by the cavaliers who were in exile with Charles II. The Chippendale chair was developed with its intricately laced back and graceful arms. The chairs during this period were heavier and it was aimed to lighten the chair. Modern chairs are comparatively lighter.
The Chairs of 18th Century
The half reclining posture that replaced the upright and bolt demeanor of aristocracy during the age of Louis XIV helped in developing the new large seat furniture that was developed in Paris around 1720. New Rococo chairs had a chassis on removable frame that was secured by clips so that the chair can be easily modified for winter and summer use. ‘Louis XV’ French chairs were constructed from the late 1720s. According to the strict rules that were enforced until Revolution, French chair making was the monopoly of menuisier, whose craft was combined with the huissier (upholsterer). A range of special chairs were developed in which the bergere(shepherdess) is the most famous.
In the 1760’s neoclassical chairs were made in Paris even before Louis XVI whose name is attached to its style. These chairs had architectural moldings, straight tapering legs joined by block on the seat rail. The three major chair makers in 1770s and 80s were Louis Delanois, George Jacob and Jean-Claude Sene.
The 18th century is said to be the golden age for chairs. In this period France, England and Colonial America contributed by sharing each other’s ideas.
The rocking chair was originated in North America during this period. It arrived in England after the development. The wicker rocking chairs peaked in North America during the 18th century half.
The Chairs of 19th Century
The design of the chairs was made simpler by the art nouveau school during this period. The production of heavy, straight lined, minimally ornamented chairs was done during Art & Crafts movement. The most famous chair of this period are Michael Thonet Bendwood chair which were created in 1859 and revolutionized the industry and are still produced today.
The 20th Century and Modern Chairs
An increasing use of technology was seen during this period. Things like all-metal folding chairs, metal-legged chairs, Slumber Chair, ergonomics chairs and molded plastic chairs, recliners were seen in this period. Other interesting chairs include egg or pod chairs & beanbag chairs, plywood & laminate chairs and massage chairs.
The chairs that we use today for our comfort and enjoyment are a result of development of thousands of years in which thousands of people have contributed. Who knows what the future holds!!