East Kent Egyptology Society
Wednesday 11th December 2019: Christmas Party. Our Christmas Social went very well with a good turnout. Diane produced her usual culinary miracles of all things Egyptian, very much appreciated by everyone. Pat served up coffees and teas along with some very welcome mulled wine and mince pies. All of which contributed to a very convivial atmosphere. An enjoyable afternoon had by all.
Wednesday 26th February 2020: Dr. Virginia Webb, Faience in the Ancient World.
Virginia gave a fascinating lecture which could be sub-titled A Clash of Cultures, Egypt & Greece, Gods, Men & Animals. In essence she discussed the technology and classification of faience in the Egyptian world and its links with the Mediterranean and Greece.
Many of us, at some time in our Ancient Egyptian forays, have been delighted and intrigued by the range and beauty of faience artefacts that have been discovered. So it was to a packed Ankh audience that faience expert and author Dr. Webb gave her lecture.
“Faience,” she said, “represents the magical strength of real objects in symbol.” The Egyptians called it Tjehenet, which means brilliant or scintillating like the moon or stars, and the Light of Immortality. The subject is, she said, “thrilling”, and went on to deliver a presentation that demonstrated exactly that.
Dr Webb, whose book ‘Archaic Greek Faience’ was published in 1978, first exploded a few myths. The word faience is often associated with Faenza in Italy, but the latter product, she clarified, is now generally known as Maiolica (Majolica), and is of tin-glazed pottery.
Despite appearances faience is non-ceramic, although it needed “hot technology” and ovens reaching temperatures over 1000C (as does pottery and metal working). Ancient Egyptians used a number of techniques to produce their items. Generally, to sodium salts such as natron, or halitic (salt-loving) plants, was added metallic salts, pure silica sand and ground quartz pebbles, which resulted in a pure white core. Copper oxides resulted in a cobalt blue exterior decoration, and antimony compounds gave yellow.
It is supposed that Faience artisans were well respected, as their work often produced important ritual objects. One such Dynasty 19 piece was made for Rekhamun, whose title was Faience Maker of Amun, to make an offering to Osiris. In the tomb of Ibi (TT36) a piece was made in Dynasty 26 by the Superintendent of Faience Mixing Workings. Among many photographs shown by Dr Webb was a beautiful blue/green model of a falcon dating from 3,700BC. This was found at Hierakonpolis, a name suggesting ‘falcon city’; and a later offering vessel from there showed the serekh title of Hor Aha.
Flinders Petrie was also fascinated by the art of faience. He wrote many books about items found, precisely drawing, measuring and cataloging them. He found fragments of Amenhotep II’s 7ft high ceremonial sceptre in the Temple of Seth, dating from 1426-1408BC. Petrie’s excavations at Amarna found evidence of clay moulds used to make objects for inlay work in the palace of Amenhotep IV, who was later known as Akhenaten. Sadly, illustrations of decorated flooring showing garden scenes and palm trees at Amarna could not be shown as farmers, fed up with visitors walking across their fields to see the beautiful work, destroyed it.
Among the most exciting photographs were those of magnificent blue, green and yellow faience tiles found on the walls of the underground passages of the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, dating from 2667-2648 BC. The stunning decoration imitates reed matting laid down for the ruler’s Heb-Sed Festival, which celebrated the first thirty years of his rule. These tiles also frame an alcove which contains a magnificent depiction of Djoser running before the gods.
These tiles would have required highly organised workshops and the division of labour into specialised tasks during all stages of production. It was, said Dr Webb, another illustration of the sophisticated Egyptian industrial machine which developed from a very early period.
More photos showed beautifully detailed Nubian, Ethiopian and Syrian figures found at Rameses III’s palace at Tell-et-Yehudiye. At Hermopolis a Dynasty 21 lotus-shaped chalice was found, showing scenes of pharaoh defeating his enemies and moving into the afterlife. It demonstrated, said Dr Webb, the huge symbolism of faience artefacts.
An interesting find at Amarna was a collection of top quality tiny rings, amulets and tablets thought to be made in the palace workshops, but used for local people who preferred to celebrate the old religion rather than follow Akhenaten’s new monotheist beliefs.
With the emergence of the Ptolemaic era, Greek influence was evident in Egyptian faience work. This has also led to suggestions that Egyptians were trading faience far and wide around the Mediterranean. Mycenaean ritual objects and plaques, a Minoan head, amulets, scarabs and a hippo in faience have also been found.
A rich lady’s grave from the Areopagus in Athens, dating to about 850 BC, contained amulets and scarabs. A vase from a tomb in Tarquinia, Italy, shows the name of Bakenranef (Bocchoris), who only reigned in Egypt for eight years, which gives more evidence of trade. Objects showing Horus, Thoth, and monkeys picking dom palm nuts, were found at Cumae (near Naples, Italy), and there were also finds from Praeneste (SW of Rome), Knossos, Crete and Rhodes. Also, from Rhodes, an exquisitely made vase, dated from around 650BC, shows possibly the god Hapi holding a dom palm nut, which Dr Webb said must also demonstrate a link with Egypt. She commented that no Greek could possibly have made faience vessels of that quality.
Beautifully decorated Dynasty 7 votive boxes and ointment or kohl containers (pyxis) were found at Kamiros, in Rhodes. Other items found there include New Year Flasks depicting Hathor and the Apis bull. These vessels contained Nile flood water and were given by servants to their masters, and must have originated in Egypt. Stunning swimming-girl spoons, and bracelets made in Rhodes but distinctly of Egyptian style, have been found which suggests direct contact between the civilisations as early as Dynasty 7.
Finely made artefacts and amulets showing Bes, Sekhmet in lion-headed pose, and the wadjet mystical eye of Horus seem to have been exported in large numbers, suggesting mass-production and export.
As the mid C6th BC approached local workshops using Egyptian techniques may have been established further afield, producing items such as aryballoi (spherical vases) in tulip-shapes depicting papyrus, or shaped in the form of the the Tilapia fish.
By the time the Persian invasion was established the Egyptian era of unique faience design was changing. A new style was emerging, and some were now made of clay, such as a majestic figure of Heracles wearing, over his head, the skin of the Nemean lion he had killed. However, the influence and artefacts of stunning Egyptian faience work would long continue for others, such as ourselves, to enjoy for millennia.