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Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)
© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Georges Poncet
Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)
This vessel is an example of Egyptian craftsmanship from the early Roman period; the form was derived from a Greek prototype, the material of Egyptian invention. The decoration consists of stylized plant motifs created from a basic element: a small, bright blue-green leaf, which stands out against a dark purple ground.
Such pieces of faience crockery, like those made of glass, were designed for a wealthy clientele and occasionally served as funerary offerings.
This type of faience is a ceramic made from siliceous paste with an alkaline glaze; its production technique dates back to the Predynastic period. With its squat shape, this vase (which once had a lid) looks like a smaller version of the Greek krater. It has a foot in two degrees and a carinated body. A raised trim runs around the shoulder, and the short, thick neck opens out into a broad, flat lip. Two ribbon handles, like flying buttresses positioned at right angles, link the shoulder and the base of the lip.
The appliqué leaf pattern on the body of the vessel, accentuating the shoulder, forms a garland reminiscent of the myrtle wreath which adorned the necks of hydriae from the Ptolemaic period. Oval in shape, with a tall straight stem and three fan-shaped leaves, it looks like a flower.
The sober decoration of the vase highlights the polychrome contrast of luminous blue-green on dark purple (the interior of the krater and its rim being bright blue). There is a round hole in the bottom of the vessel.
A sophisticated production technique
In the early Roman period, the raw material for this paste consisted of white quartz pebbles which were roughly crushed. Several molds were used during the production process. The handles and neck were added separately; the join between the neck and the upper part of the body is visible inside the vase, but hidden on the outside by the raised trim. The round foot was also added later. The shoulder and body were fashioned separately; the join was concealed on the outside by the wreath of foliage. The decoration is based on a repetitive module: a little leaf, arranged in various combinations, which was molded independently in imitation of a barbotine design. A very resistant bright blue glaze was washed all over the vase, inside and outside; a second, purple glaze covers the outside only, the bright blue-green glaze being reserved for the appliqué decoration. The final stage was stacking and firing in a large kiln.
A funerary offering
The hole in the bottom of the vase refers to an ancient Greek funerary practice: liquid offerings were poured into a large bottomless vase placed above the grave. There is no trace of sediment inside this vase, however; it was simply placed in the tomb near the mummy to evoke this custom, thereby emphasizing the Greek identity of the deceased.
This type of vessel was mass-produced (the Department of Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre owns three other examples) and was a common utensil in Egypt, especially in Alexandria and the towns of the Fayum region, whose inhabitants were mostly Greek.
BibliographyM.-F. Aubert, R. Cortopassi, catalogue de l'exposition Portraits de l'Egypte romaine, Paris, musée du Louvre, 5 octobre 1998-4 janvier 1999, Paris, 1998, n 129 ;
D. Nenna, M. Seif el-Din, La vaisselle en faïence d'époque gréco-romaine. Catalogue du Musée gréco-romain d'Alexandrie, Le Caire, 2000, p. 354, 410, fig. 14 T18,1 ;
Catalogue de l'exposition Egypte romaine. L'autre Egypte, Marseille, musée d'Archéologie méditerranéenne, 4 avril-13 juillet 1997, n 129 ;
First century BC to first century AD
H. 20.70 cm; W. 19 cm
Gift of L., I., and A. Curtis, 1938
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