There Still exists in the selamlik of a Turkish mansion, the wooden house of a Syriac Christian, and in the tent of a rich sheik, the same bed, - a long cushion laid sometimes on a wooden divan, and sometimes on a crazy framework of timber or cane. This bed resembles the Egyptian couch, - a cushion placed on a framework, generally in the shape of an animal, whose back served as the resting-place for the outstretched body.

Beds are described in the Bible: that of Og, King of Bashan, was nine cubits long and four cubits broad. Beds of gold and silver are spoken of in the book of Esther; Herodotus mentions beds of silver and gold which he saw in the temples; and a bed with a tester is recorded in Judith xvi. 23, which, in connection with rich tapestries, hung about a bed for ornament and luxury, proves that the ancient Hebrews understood something about the comforts for sleeping.

In the heroic age of Greece the people slept on heaps of skins or leaves, but in Homer's time they possessed beds. Some of the sleeping apartments of the Greeks were small and airless, mere cells, in fact; but they had sofas and truckle-beds of considerable comfort, and at an early period the four-posted bedstead. Beds with foot and headboard also became known. A bedroom in a wealthy Athenian villa is thus described: "Before the door hangs a costly carpet, woven in variegated colors on a Babylonian loom. The bedstead is of maple, veneered (some are of bronze, at a later period tortoise-shell), at the top there is fastened an ornamented board to support the head; girths are stretched across to support the mattress, which is covered with linen and sometimes with cloth or leather. The stuffing is of wool or leaves; a striped cushion, filled with feathers, forms the pillow. Clothes like the modern blanket are used, surmounted by a splendid coverlet from Miletus, or Corinth, or Carthage, where a brisk trade was carried on in the manufacture of these articles of luxury. In cold weather furs are used, stuffed coverlets too, sometimes like the eiderdown beds of Germany. The feet of the bedstead peep forth from under the rich coverlet and are of carved ivory. The floor is covered with Asiatic carpet; a table of veneered maple, with three goats' feet of bronze, is placed by the bedstead, and in one of the corners of the apartment is a Corinthian tripod containing a copper coal pan to warm the room in chilly weather."

III The Bed 108Egyptian Couches

Egyptian Couches

Previous to their subjugation of the East, the Romans slept on planks covered with straw, moss, or dried leaves; but, when Asiatic luxuries were introduced into the imperial city, the wealthy citizens furnished their sleeping apartments in a sumptuous manner with large carved bedsteads and couches of ivory or rare Indian woods inlaid with gold, amber, or tortoise-shell. The feet of these were often of gold or silver, and the mattress was filled with wool or feathers, and covered with a soft material having alternate stripes of white and violet sprinkled with gilt stars. Blankets were often used, purple being the favorite color; and these were richly embroidered with devices wrought in gold. Over them were thrown counterpanes of the most beautiful furs and richest stuffs. Curtains and canopies were not unknown; and sometimes steps were placed by the side of the bed for the occupant to ascend easily upon the heap of luxurious cushions.

Greek Bedstead

Greek Bedstead

Dutch Renaissance Carved Oak Bedstead with Painted Leather Ceiling (1656)   Metropolitan Museum

Plate LXXII - Dutch Renaissance Carved Oak Bedstead with Painted Leather Ceiling (1656) - Metropolitan Museum

In the early Anglo-Saxon homes the bedstead was a rarity except for kings, queens and other great personages; but as time wore on and the country became more calm and secure, the habits of the people also corresponded. The "par-loir," or talking-room, was added; fireplaces of stone-work or bricks were made in rooms where previously the smoke had been allowed to escape through a hole in the roof; and bedsteads were draped with curtains.

The Mediaeval upholsterer realized that a large room where bitter winds entered through the lancet windows could be rendered comfortable for sleeping only by the protection of a bed hung with heavy curtains, and so the curtains are of the utmost importance.

For example, the "embroidered chamber" of Jane of Burgundy, Queen of Philip V., at her coronation at Rheims in 1330 was ornamented with 1321 parrots with the arms of the King, and 1321 butterflies with the arms of Burgundy.

In the Middle Ages the word "chambre" was used to describe the entire set of hangings and curtains that adorned the bedroom, and these were frequently changed every season like the altar-cloths and vestments of the church and clergy. The rooms were named, too, after the various seasons of the church, or the subjects of the tapestry that adorned them. Beautiful Byzantine tapestry, with other hangings and carpets, was brought into Western Europe by those returning from the First Crusade (1096-1099), and after 1146, when Count Robert of Sicily brought home from his expedition into Greece some silk-workers and established a manufactory at Palermo, fine brocades and damasks were carried northward from Italy. During the Thirteenth Century tapestries came into general use for hangings in private mansions, and the looms of France and the Netherlands produced the most wonderful works. Subjects from Grecian mythology and heroic legends became as popular as those taken from the Bible.

III The Bed 112Anglo Saxon Beds, Tenth Century

Anglo-Saxon Beds, Tenth Century