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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
(a common Teutonic word, cf. German Bett, probably connected with the Indo-European root bhodh, seen in the Lat. fodere, to dig; so "a dug-out place" for safe resting, or in the same sense as a garden "bed"), a general term for a resting or sleeping place for men and animals, and in particular for the article of household furniture for that object, and so used by analogy in other senses, involving a supporting surface or layer. The accompaniments of a domestic bed (bedding, coverlets, &c.) have naturally varied considerably in different times, and its form and decoration and social associations have considerable historical interest. The Egyptians had high bedsteads which were ascended by steps, with bolsters or pillows, and curtains to hang round. Often there was a head-rest as well, semi-cylindrical and made of stone, wood or metal. Assyrians, Medes and Persians had beds of a similar kind, and frequently decorated their furniture with inlays or appliqués of metal, mother-of-pearl and ivory. The oldest account of a bedstead is probably that of Ulysses which Homer describes him as making in his own house, but he also mentions the inlaying of the woodwork of beds with gold, silver and ivory. The Greek bed had a wooden frame, with a board at the head and bands of hide laced across, upon which skins were placed. At a later period the bedstead was often veneered with expensive woods; sometimes it was of solid ivory veneered with tortoise-shell and with silver feet; often it was of bronze. The pillows and coverings also became more costly and beautiful; the most celebrated places for their manufacture were Miletus, Corinth and Carthage. Folding beds, too, appear in the vase paintings. The Roman mattresses were stuffed with reeds, hay, wool or feathers; the last was used towards the end of the Republic, when custom demanded luxury. Small cushions were placed at the head and sometimes at the back. The bedsteads were high and could only be ascended by the help of steps. They were often arranged for two persons, and had a board or railing at the back as well as the raised portion at the head. The counterpanes were sometimes very costly, generally purple embroidered with figures in gold; and rich hangings fell to the ground masking the front. The bedsteads themselves were often of bronze inlaid with silver, and Elagabalus, like some modern Indian princes, had one of solid silver. In the walls of some of the houses at Pompeii bed niches are found which were probably closed by curtains or sliding partitions. The marriage bed, lectus genialis, was much decorated, and was placed in the atrium opposite the door. A low pallet-bed used for sick persons was known as scimpodium. Other forms of couch were called lectus, but were not beds in the modern sense of the word except the lectus funebris, on which the body of a dead person lay in state for seven days, clad in a toga and rich garments, and surrounded by flowers and foliage. This bed rested on ivory legs, over which purple blankets embroidered with gold were spread, and was placed in the atrium with the foot to the door and with a pan of incense by its side. The ancient Germans lay on the floor on beds of leaves covered with skins, or in a kind of shallow chest filled with leaves and moss. In the early middle ages they laid carpets on the floor or on a bench against the wall, placed upon them mattresses stuffed with feathers, wool or hair, and used skins as a covering. They appear to have generally lain naked in bed, wrapping themselves in the large linen sheets which were stretched over the cushions. In the 13th century luxury increased, and bedsteads were made of wood much decorated with inlaid, carved and painted ornament. They also used folding beds, which served as couches by day and had cushions covered with silk laid upon leather. At night a linen sheet was spread and pillows placed, while silk-covered skins served as coverlets. Curtains were hung from the ceiling or from an iron arm projecting from the wall. The Carolingian MSS. show metal bedsteads much higher at the head than at the feet, and this shape continued in use till the 13th century in France, many cushions being added to raise the body to a sloping position. In the 12th-century MSS. the bedsteads appear much r icher, with inlays, carving and painting, and with embroidered coverlets and mattresses in harmony. Curtains were hung above the bed, and a small hanging lamp is often shown. In the 14th century the woodwork became of less importance, being generally entirely covered by hangings of rich materials. Silk, velvet and even cloth of gold were much used. Inventories from the beginning of the 14th century give details of these hangings lined with fur and richly embroidered. Then it was that the tester bed made its first appearance, the tester being slung from the ceiling or fastened to the walls, a form which developed later into a room within a room, shut in by double curtains, sometimes even so as to exclude all draughts. The space between bed and wall was called the ruelle, and very intimate friends were received there. In the 15th century beds became very large, reaching to 7 or 8 ft. by 6 or 7 ft. Viollet-le-Duc says that the mattresses were filled with pea-shucks or straw - neither wool nor horsehair is mentioned - but feathers also were used. At this time great personages were in the habit of carrying most of their property about with them, including beds and bed-hangings, and for this reason the bedsteads were for the most part mere frameworks to be covered up; but about the beginning of the 16th century bedsteads were made lighter and more decorative, since the lords remained in the same place for longer periods. In the museum at Nancy is a fine bedstead of this period which belonged to Antoine de Lorraine. It has a carved head and foot as well as the uprights which support the tester. Another is in the Musee Cluny ascribed to Pierre de Gondi, very architectural in design, with a bracketed cornice, and turned and carved posts; at the head figures of warriors watch the sleeper. Louis XIV. had an enormous number of sumptuous beds, as many as 413 being described in the inventories of his palaces. Some of them had embroideries enriched with pearls, and figures on a silver or golden ground. The carving was the work of Proux or Caffieri, and the gilding by La Baronniere. The great bed at Versailles had crimson velvet curtains on which "The Triumph of Venus" was embroidered. So much gold was used that the velvet scarcely showed. Under the influence of Madame de Maintenon "The Sacrifice of Abraham," which is now on the tester, replaced "The Triumph of Venus." In the 17th century, which has been called "the century of magnificent beds," the style a la duchesse, with tester and curtains only at the head, replaced the more enclosed beds in France, though they lasted much longer in England. In the 18th century feather pillows were first used as coverings in Germany, which in the fashions of the bed and the curious etiquette connected with the bedchamber followed France for the most part. The beds were a la duchesse, but in France itself there was great variety both of name and shape - the lit d alcove, lit d'ange, which had no columns, but a suspended tester with curtains drawn back, lit a l'Anglaise, which looked like a high sofa by day, lit en baldaquin, with the tester fixed against the wall, lit a couronne with a tester shaped like a crown, a style which appeared under Louis XVI., and was fashionable under the Restoration and Louis Philippe, and lit a l'imperiale, which had a curved tester, are a few of their varieties. The lit en baldaquin of Napoleon I. is still at Fontainebleau, and the Garde Meuble contains several richly carved beds of a more modern date. The custom of the "bed of justice" upon which the king of France reclined when he was present in parliament, the princes being seated, the great officials standing, and the lesser officials kneeling, was held to denote the royal power even more than the throne. Louis XI. is credited with its first use, and the custom lasted till the end of the monarchy. From the habit of using this bed to hear petitions, &c., came the usage of the grand lit, which was provided wherever the king stayed, called also lit de parement or lit de parade, rather later. Upon this bed the dead king lay in state. The beds of the king and queen were saluted by the courtiers as if they were altars, and none approached them even when there was no railing to prevent it. These railings were apparently placed for other than ceremonial reasons originally, and in the accounts of several castles in the 15th century mention is made of a railing to keep dogs from the bed. In the chambre de parade, where the ceremonial bed was placed, certain persons, such as ambassadors or great lords, whom it was desired to honour, were received in a more intimate fashion than the crowd of courtiers. The petit lever was held in the bedroom itself, the grand lever in the chambre de parade. At Versailles women received their friends in their beds, both before and after childbirth, during periods of mourning, and even directly after marriage - in fact in any circumstances which were thought deserving of congratulation or condolence. During the 17th century this curious custom became general, perhaps to avoid the tiresome details of etiquette. Portable beds were used in high society in France till the end of the ancien regime. The earliest of which mention has been found belonged to Charles the Bold (see Memoirs of Philippe de Comines). They had curtains over a light framework, and were in their way as fine as the stationary beds. Iron beds appear in the 18th century; the advertisements recommend them as free from the insects which sometimes infested wooden bedsteads, but one is mentioned in the inventory of the furniture of the castle of Nerac in 1569, "un lit de fer et de cuivre, avec quatre petites colonnes de laiton, ensemble quatre satyres de laiton, quatre petits vases de laiton pour mettre sur les colonnes; dedans le dit lit it y a la figure d'Olopherne ensemble de Judith, qui sont d'albatre." In Scotland, Brittany and Holland the closed bed with sliding or folding shutters has persisted till our own day, and in England - where beds were commonly quite simple in form - the fourposter, with tester and curtains all round, was the usual citizen's bed till the middle of the 19th century. Many fine examples exist of 17th-century carved oak bedsteads, some of which have found their way into museums. The later forms, in which mahogany was usually the wood employed, are much less architectural in design. Some exceedingly elegant mahogany bedsteads were designed by Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton, and there are signs that English taste is returning to the wooden bedstead in a lighter and less monumental form. (J. P.-B.)
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Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Bed'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​b/bed.html. 1910.