Word, Object, Image: The Bed as a Sign in New Kingdom Egyptian Art Open Access

Cummins, Elizabeth Ann (2013)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/qj72p7673?locale=en


In this dissertation, I examine the bed as word, object, and image in the New Kingdom in order to explore the bed's function within the semiotic structure of Egyptian art. Like many western cultures today, the Egyptians associated the bed with the concepts of sleep, death, and sexual activity, but the conceptual framework in which it was comprehended was quite different from the modern perspective. The connotative meanings (in semiotics, the secondary or cultural meanings) that stem from the sign of the bed must be examined within its ancient framework. In addition to examining the bed within the material culture, I look at the bed in both text and image. Due to the pictorial nature of the Egyptian language, the bed not only appears as a subject of writing but as the writing itself--as a hieroglyph. The fine line between text and image within the Egyptian visual system is brought forward when examining the bed within both spheres.

I have organized much of the material based on the ancient Egyptians' concepts of sex, sleep, and death. These three ideas were intertwined within the Egyptian consciousness as sleep and death were often compared as liminal states and sexual activity in the Egyptians' view led not only to birth in this life but also the next. I argue that the bed signaled to the viewer that the occupant was in a transitional state, with the bed becoming a location to successfully transfer its occupant into the next realm or protect the individual on the uncertain thresholds of sleep or conception. I propose the bed makes its own transformation as well, when it becomes the lion-headed funerary bier, indicating the nature and significance it holds in its funerary functions. The ultimate function for the sign of the bed is that of rebirth for its occupant.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

List of Figures

Chapter 1: Introduction
I. Constructing a framework 1
II. Problems with interpretation 6
III. Methodology 11

Chapter 2: The bed as object
I. The Bed as an object within
New Kingdom material culture 20
II. The bed within domestic space 30
III. The bed within a funerary context 35
IV. Decorative elements of the bed 43
V. Conclusion 44

Chapter 3: The bed as image: sex and procreation
I. Introduction 46
II. Images of the bed in non-royal contexts 52
III. Images of the bed in royal contexts 70
IV. Manifestations of sexual life and procreation in
New Kingdom texts 80
V. Conclusions 87

Chapter 4: The bed as image: sleep
I. Introduction 92
II. The concept of sleep 93
III. Sleep and the artistic record 103
IV. The bed as a locus of the nightly transition of
the sleeping individual into the next day 107
V. Conclusion 111

Chapter 5: The bed as image: death
I. Introduction 113
II. The New Kingdom concept of death 123
III. Images containing the bed in New Kingdom funerary
contexts 129
IV. Conclusion 149

Chapter 6: Case Studies
I. Case-study 1: The bed of Sennedjem 157
II. Case-study 2: The coffin bed of Tutankhamen 162
III. Conclusions 165

Appendix I 169

Bibliography 175


About this Dissertation

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files