Chair leg carved as a sphinx probably made of ebony

From Egypt
Late Period, 7th-4th centuries BC

Made in Nubia for the Egyptian market?

Egyptian furniture was often highly decorated, combining elaborate carving with inlays such as wood, ivory, glass, semi-precious stones and even gold. Striking effects could also be produced by using contrasting paints and filling in details with coloured pigments. Decorative woods such as ebony had to be imported into Egypt, where this resource was extremely limited. Tomb decoration shows that ebony, gold and other luxury items were brought as raw materials from further south in Africa, either as tribute or by trade.

The combination of Egyptian and Nubian elements in this chair leg suggests that it was made in Nubia for the Egyptian market. The head of the sphinx has features characteristic of Nubians depicted in Egyptian art but Egyptian sphinxes, with a human head and the body of a lion, are always shown lying down. The pool with papyrus clumps and lotus flowers above the head of the figure are entirely Egyptian.

The hieroglyphic inscription bestowing 'all power, all life and all health' to the owner is characteristic of inscriptions on royal monuments. This might suggest that the chair belonged to a member of the royal family.

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More information


S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)


Height: 42.300 cm
Width: 7.000 cm

Museum number

EA 24656



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