Discover the Ancient Egyptian Faience with Artemission
Ancient Egyptian faience is something completely different from European faience, andshould not be confused with it. European faience is a hard, brightly coloured, tin-glazed pottery first made in Faenze (hence its name) in Italy in late medieval times. It is also known as majolica.
Egyptian faience (often referred to as glazed composition) is composed of crushed quartz sand which has been mixed with a small amount of natron (a strong solution of natural salt), lime or plant ash. Mixed with water it can then be either pressed into a mould, or hand-moulded to produce the necessary shape.
It is fired in kilns reaching 1000 degrees centigrade or more, which then fuses the ingredients together. Various colours can be achieved by either adding ingredients to the body-mix (when it rises to the surface during the firing), or coating the exterior of the object with a glazing powder that bonds during firing. The typical blue colour is achieved by using crushed cobalt, the apple-green by crushed malachite. Faience is known to have been made and used from the Predynastic period (before 4000 BC), mainly then for beads, and down to Islamic times in Egypt.
Faience was principally used to produce the thousands of small amuletic figures of the gods that were often worn for protection by the living, and the numerous amulets that were required to be placed on specific parts of the body within the bandages during the embalming process. For example, the djed pillar of stability, representing a spinal column and the embodiment of the god Osiris, would be placed on the back of the neck.
There are lists of amulets and where they should be placed known from several papyri, notably the MacGregor papyrus. Faience amulets vary enormously in quality and size, some are pitiful in the extreme, being hardly recognisable as the gods they are supposed to represent; these tend to be from the Late or even Roman Periods.
Very fine detail can be achieved with faience from a mould and some amulets are miniature works of art. Good standing figures of gods in faience are generally about 3-4cm high but, especially in the 26th Dynasty (664-525 BC), they can be as much as 9-10cms tall with very fine detailed moulding of facial features and dress ornaments.
The largest known piece of faience is a huge was sceptre, 216cm in height, which came from the temple of Seth at Tukh and has the cartouche of Amenophis II (1427-1401 BC) on it. It is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
See Artemission’s category for a large selection of authentic ancient Egyptian faience amulets and objects.
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