Faience model vessels

By
Evan Smith
Evan Smith is a Materials Science and Engineering major in the Class of 2018.
,
Jordan Poston
Jordan is an Earth and Planetary Sciences major in the Class of 2019.
,
Margaret Swaney
Meg Swaney is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University studying Egyptian Art and Archaeology. She also holds a master's degree in Museum Studies from New York University ('13), where her research focused on the ethics of displaying Egyptian mummies, as well as a bachelor's degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago ('11).
and
Sanchita Balachandran
Sanchita Balachandran is the Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. She teaches courses related to the identification and analysis of ancient manufacturing techniques of objects, as well as the history, ethics and practice of museum conservation.
ECM 1584; ca. 1550-1295 BCE; Faience; L 3.3 cm x W 3.2 cm x H 3.4 cm (Wall Thickness 0.4 cm)

Lotus chalice, ECM 1584, Faience, pigment, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1550-1295 BCE, L 3.3 cm x W 3.2 cm x H 3.4 cm (Wall Thickness 0.4 cm)

Description

In ancient Egypt a model of something was just as effective as the thing it represented, and Egyptians often opted to include models in their burials rather than full-sized–and perhaps sometimes more expensive–objects. Such models were frequently made of faience, a material which itself had a wide array of symbolic associations. The Egyptian word for faience (tehenet) is the feminine form of the word (tehen) “to dazzle,” and the bright shining surfaces of these faience vessels are readily apparent. Their vivid greenish-blue color was also associated with regeneration. The small lotus chalice (ECM 1564) and the flask (ECM 456), each with lotus petals indicated in black around their bodies, take this symbolism further, as the blue lotus was associated with rebirth and often appears in banqueting scenes where copious amounts of wine were drunk, perhaps from full-sized versions of similar vessels. The black markings around the rim and shoulder of the small jar (ECM 430) with wide mouth, everted rim, and drop-shaped body with lug handles at shoulder may also represent some sort of vegetal motif. Many of these vessels likely represent objects made in a different material, perhaps ceramic or hard stone, the latter of which the Egyptians were especially skilled in crafting into fine vessels.

ECM 430

Jar, ECM 430, Faience, pigment, Ptolemaic Period(?), ca. 330-30 BCE, H 5.0 cm x D 3.4 cm

Technical Research

Jar, ECM 429, H 5.2 cm x D 3.8 cm and Vessel, ECM 549, L 2.7 cm x W 2.8 cm x H 3.3 cm with their corresponding x-rays.

Jar, ECM 429, H 5.2 cm x D 3.8 cm and Vessel, ECM 549, L 2.7 cm x W 2.8 cm x H 3.3 cm with their corresponding x-rays.

As examined by undergraduate students Evan Smith and Jordan Poston, all of these miniature vessels were hand-modeled in Egyptian faience paste, mostly by coiling and smoothing, and were glazed with copper-based colorants that provide the rich blue-green hue that most still retain. Most of the painted black lines on these objects were created with a manganese-rich colorant still detectable by x-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF). X-radiography of these tiny vessels also provided delightful details into their production, showing clearly how coils were used to  form the faience paste into the desired shape, or how holes were drilled post-firing.

X-radiography, in combination with a study of the different glaze compositions using XRF provided an interesting insight into more recent repairs to at least one of these objects. In the case of ECM 453, an x-ray provides evidence that the object is actually composed of two different objects that were attached and covered with a black wax-like band to conceal the repair. XRF of the two different parts of the vessel suggested significantly different glaze compositions, with lead present in the glaze of the lower portion of the object, but missing in the upper portion. This further corroborates the finding that this object is a composite of two objects, which were possibly even manufactured hundreds of years apart in time as the addition of lead may suggest a glaze made in the Ptolemaic period.

Vessel, ECM 453, H 4.4 cm x D 2.8 cm alongside its x-ray which shows that it is composed of two different objects adhered together in modern times.

Vessel, ECM 453, H 4.4 cm x D 2.8 cm alongside its x-ray which shows that it is composed of two different objects adhered together in modern times.

 

ECM 456; ca. 1186-1069 BCE; Faience; L 2.6 cm x W 2.6 cm x H 5.9 cm (Wall Thickness 0.3 cm)

Flask, ECM 456, Faience, pigment, New Kingdom, 20th Dynasty,  ca. 1186-1069 BCE, L 2.6 cm x W 2.6 cm x H 5.9 cm (Wall Thickness 0.3 cm)