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Work Necklace with fish pendants

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

Collier à chaîne simple en chevron, pendeloques en forme de poisson et fleur de nénufar

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Author(s):
P. Rigault

The two chains of this necklace are formed of small, interlocking rings. Three small chains, each one with a pendant - an elegant lotus flower and two small fish - hang from the rectangular clasp. This magnificent piece of jewelry is characteristic of the brilliant craftsmanship of Egyptian artists, who had mastered highly sophisticated jewelry-making techniques from the earliest eras on.

Gold, a divine material

Gold was abundant in the deserts of the south and southeast regions of Egypt. It was rarely pure and contained various quantities of silver, which gave it a pale yellow color. Used as early as the predynastic period for valuable pieces of jewelry, gold was highly esteemed by Egyptians and was used to make countless necklaces, earrings, rings and bracelets, which were worn by both men and women. It was also used to reward deserving civil servants, and the pharaoh distributed the "reward of gold" primarily in the form of necklaces. This inalterable metal evoked the brilliance of the sun, and Egyptians compared it to the flesh of the gods. It assured eternity, and therefore occupied an important place in funerary materials. The highest-quality mummies were equipped to enter the afterlife with a mask, fingerstalls, sandals, and other gold amulets.

Sophisticated techniques

Egyptians used various goldsmith techniques: smelting, gold leaf, casting, hammering, welding, and soldering. In addition, engraving, embossing, repoussé, stamping, gilding, filigree, and granulation were also used for decorative purposes.
This magnificent necklace consists of two ropes formed of small interlocked bent rings. They are soldered to four small tubes, which connect them to the clasp. Three pendants - two small fish and one lotus flower - are suspended from the clasp on three small chains. The flower originally had a cloisonné pattern, but the inlays are now missing. The fish are formed of two repoussé and soldered leaves of gold.

Fish, lotus flowers, and regeneration

The lotus is a common decorative motif in Egyptian art. It appears in painting and relief sculptures, on all sorts of objects, and frequently, in jewelry, as on this piece. It emerges from the water to flower at dawn; hence its symbolic link to the rebirth of the sun. One of the chapters in the Book of the Dead discusses the transformation of the deceased into a lotus flower.
The fish motif is less common, yet it also appears regularly. It decorates earthenware recipients, while the fish shape itself is used for such diverse objects as palettes and jewelry. It is also found in the shape of beads made into belts or pendants hanging from children's braids or placed on necklaces. This is the inet, or Tilapia nilotica, recognizably by its rounded shape and long dorsal fin, visible on these pendants. This fish keeps its eggs in its mouths; the young therefore seem to hatch spontaneously, making this fish a symbol of rebirth.
The lotus and fish motifs were often used together during the New Kingdom in a strong statement of solar regeneration.

Bibliography

- PIERRAT G., L'Egypte au Louvre, 1997, p. 14.

- Mémoires d'Egypte, catalogue d'exposition, Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, 1990, p. 58.

Technical description

  • Collier à chaîne simple en chevron, pendeloques en forme de poisson et fleur de nénufar

  • or

    l. : 49 cm. ; D. : 0,40 cm. ; L. : 2,20 cm.

  • N 1852

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Finery
    Room 9
    Vitrine 6 : Bijoux : le Nouvel Empire, 1550 - 1069 avant J.-C.

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