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Work Kohl pot in the form of a Nubian porter

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Vase porté par un serviteur

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Geneviève Pierrat-Bonnefois

This little kohl pot in the form of a servant is an excellent example of the taste of the refined society that developed in the New Kingdom. Wealthy people took great care over their toilet. They also enjoyed surrounding themselves with elegant objects and reminders of their own privileges.

A pot and a statuette

This statuette is in fact a functional object: the figure carries what would for him be an enormous jar, but is in reality a small cosmetics pot, of an ideal size for the user. Vessels of this type were made in large sizes, in calcite or terracotta, and also in small sizes, in stone or glass. The porter is carved from a single block of limestone and stands on a base of calcite, reflecting the Egyptians' fondness for combining materials. The knotted loincloth between his thighs had an inlaid part at the front falling from the waist, which is now lost, as is the earring.

A society of masters and servants

The 18th Dynasty saw an increase in domestic comforts and a growing taste for luxury. The wealthy embellished their homes with elegant utilitarian objects, including cosmetic pots, which had always been an important part of Egyptian life. The miniature jar the figure carries still contains traces of black powder, the kohl which the Egyptians used so much.
The porter's hair and the stereotypical facial features indicate that he is Nubian. Many of the domestics servants in the service of wealthy Egyptians in the New Kingdom were Nubians, whose country was by then completely colonized. He also has the short legs of a dwarf, and a hunchback, deformities often found in representations of domestics. It is possible that dwarves were especially sought after as members of the household for reasons of superstition.

Movement in Egyptian art

The vertical axis of the body passes between the feet and through the navel to terminate at the figure's right ear: the torso is thus thrust to the right, to compensate for the weight of the pot, which is entirely borne on the left shoulder. The face is turned a little to the left. Seen in profile, the body leans forward slightly to balance the load borne on the back of the shoulder. The man seems to be walking with difficulty, as if weighed down by his burden.
The frontal emphasis characteristic of Egyptian representations of the human body has here been abandoned in order to render effort through complexity of movement. The piece is intended to be seen from all sides, rather than from the four traditional points of view (front, back, right profile and left profile), and only the square base gives any indication of orientation.
The reason for this liberty taken with convention is simple: there was no intention of representing a particular, identifiable person here, but rather a genre subject, a servant at work. The look of eternal composure that was sought for in the portraits of notables, kings, and gods here gives way to the expression of physical effort, demonstrating that the Egyptians knew perfectly well how to portray the body in motion.


G. PIERRAT-BONNEFOIS et Ch. ZIEGLER, L’Art en Egypte au temps des Pharaons, les collections du Louvre, catalogue d’exposition bilingue franco-portugais, FAAP, Sao Paulo, 2001, p. 196-198, notice n° 21

J. VANDIER D’ABBADIE, Musée du Louvre Département des Antiquités Egyptiennes - Catalogue des objets de toilette égyptiens, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 1972, p. 102-103, notice n° 393


Technical description

  • Vase porté par un serviteur

  • calcaire et albâtre

    H. : 11,50 cm.

  • N 1344

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Room 9
    Vitrine 2 : Produits de beauté

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