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Work Kohl Recipient: the god Bes

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Objects from everyday life

Pot à kohol : dieu Bès

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Objects from everyday life

Author(s):
Pierrat-Bonnefois Geneviève

The figurine has lost its feet and plinth, which have now been replaced by a modern base. The earrings and the pivoting top of this kohl recipient are also missing. These objects were often made in the form of the god Bes, who protected the valuable contents. The palette of bright colors that sparkle against the white background is especially remarkable in that it was created with metal oxides.

A Product of the Ceramic Arts

Egyptians produced a never-ending array of amulets and figurines from siliceous clay decorated with a surface glaze for more than three thousand years. The basic technique remained unchanged: an object was fashioned by sculpting or casting clay consisting of silica - desert sand or crushed quartz - some calcium, and an alkaline material, generally vegetal ashes (potassium), along with an unidentified organic binder. It was left to dry in the open air, during which the alkaline salts moved to the surface (through efflorescence). The object was then fired in a kiln at around 850 C, which melted the silica on the surface, creating a shiny glaze. The partial vitrification at the core of the object created cohesion between the particles. Throughout these three thousand years, the Egyptians never produced lead glazes on clay, as opposed to the Mesopotamians, for example.

A Masterful Use of White and Colors

Another method for creating a beautiful, brilliant glaze consisted in plunging the object into an enamel emulsion made up of water, a colored mineral powder, and an alkaline. The surface was then entirely vitrified; in all likelihood, this was the method used for this object. The so-called "efflorescence" method leaves pits where there is less exchange with the air; there is therefore less enamel at these spots. To obtain the whitest possible surface, the clay had to consist of pure quartz without any coloring agents such as iron oxide, which is found in desert sand. New brilliant colors atop this white were introduced in the Eighteenth Dynasty: these included a dark cobalt blue and a bright red created from iron oxide.

The Painted Decor

An in-depth examination reveals that the entire motif was probably painted using some type of brush dipped in emulsions that contained powdered metal oxides. The blue color highlights the incised lines and the god's jewelry and hair. The tongue, navel, and nipples are red; a green wash covers the front of the ears, while a yellow wash shades the eyes. The details on the eyes, mouth, and animal-skin breeches (complete with tail) are painted in manganese brown, a color used in Egyptian faience from a very early era.
It is difficult to add color using oxide paints, as the colored areas tend to bleed at the edges - hence the invention of incised colored lines. This creates a perfect result when the technique is mastered, as was the case in the workshops of Kings Amenophis III and Amenophis IV. The quality of the colors on this object is remarkable, due to an excellent knowledge of metal oxides.

Bibliography

Vandier d'Abbadie J., Les Objets de Toilette égyptiens au Musée du Louvre, Réunion des musées nationaux (RMN), Paris, 1972, p.55-56, fig.164, notice n 164.
Aménophis III le Pharaon Soleil, cat. exp., Paris, Grand Palais, 1993, p.354, notice n 110.

Technical description

  • Pot à kohol : dieu Bès

    vers 1400 - 1300 avant J.-C. (fin 18e dynastie)

  • H. 8.5 cm; W. 4.9 cm

  • N 4469

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Materials and techniques
    Room 7
    Vitrine 06 : Le verre et la "faïence"

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