18th Dynasty Faience Bowl Decorated with a Fish - X.0334
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 1550 BC to 1295 BC
Collection: Egyptian
Style: 18th Dynasty
Medium: Faience


Faience, which dates back to predynastic times, at least 5,000 years, is a glasslike non-clay substance made of materials common to Egypt: ground quartz, crushed quartz pebbles, flint, a soluble salt-like baking soda, lime and ground copper, which provided the characteristic color. The dried objects went into kilns looking pale and colorless but emerged a sparkling "Egyptian blue." Called tjehnet by the Ancient Egyptians, meaning that which is brilliant or scintillating, faience was thought to be filled with the undying light of the sun, moon and stars and was symbolic of rebirth. Ancient Egyptians believed the small blue-green objects helped prepare them for eternity in the afterlife.

This faience bowl and others like it are sometimes referred to as “marsh bowls” by scholars. This name is derived from the decorative imagery that typically features marshland motifs. It is believed that marsh bowls served as votives offerings and were not used as tableware as is sometimes suggested. Fragments of similar bowls have been found at temples and shrines dedicated to the goddess Hathor, suggesting a link between these works and the deity. The aquatic imagery painted onto the insides of the bowls also alludes to fertility and rebirth while other motifs employed relate to the goddess more directly, such as sistra, masks, and overt representations of the goddess in her cow form. Less frequently, marsh bowls have been found entombed alongside the remains of the deceased as funerary offerings. In the burial context, the fertility imagery seems to suggest the concept of rebirth in the afterlife. The tombs in which such bowls have been excavated are non-royal and mostly female, furthering the link between Hathor and these works. Although nearly every bowl has been discovered empty, a few contained remnants of milky substances, suggesting they once held votive offerings to the goddess Hathor.

This bowl has been decorated with the image of a fish surrounded by three lotus buds, expertly rendered in manganese that, after firing, appears as black pigment against the bluish green hue of the faience. The fish appears to be the tilapia fish (Tilapia nilotica) that often appears on such bowls. This fish was a symbol of eternal life. The tilapia guards its young in its mouth, and this fact seems to have been misinterpreted by the Ancient Egyptians as an example of spontaneous regeneration. Furthermore, the Egyptians also believed that the louts flower, which closes and opens during the diurnal cycle of night and day, was a symbol of the renewal of life. By placing such a work inside the tomb, the Ancient Egyptians hoped to ensure that the deceased would be reborn in the next world to thrive for all eternity. - (X.0334)



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