Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V05, Page 711 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
EGYPT AND WESTERN ASIA Egyptian Pottery.—Egypt affords us the most striking instance of the development of the potter's art. As in other countries pottery was made even in Neolithic times, for the Nile mud forms a fine plastic clay and sand is of course abundant. With these materials various kinds of pottery, often extremely well made and of good form, have been continuously produced for common domestic requirements, but such pottery was never glazed. The wonderful glazes of the Egyptians were applied to a special preparation which can hardly be called pottery at all, it contained so little clay. Yet as early as the Ist Dynasty the Egyptians had learnt to shape little objects in this tender material and cover them with their wonderful turquoise glazes. We have therefore to study the development of two independent things: (r) the ordinary pottery of common clay left without glaze; (2) the brilliant glazed faience which appears to be special to Egypt, though it may have been the groundwork for the technique of the slip-faced painted and glazed pottery of the nearer East. We probably do not possess any specimens of the most primitive Neolithic pottery; the oldest type known to us, the black and red ware of Ballas and Nagada (1), dates from the later Neolithic age, when copper was just beginning to be used. This ware is very hard and compact and the face is highly burnished. The red colour was produced by a wash of fine red clay; the black is an oxide of iron obtained by limiting the access of air in the process of baking, which was done, Professor Petrie suggests, by placing the pot's mouth down in the kiln, and leaving the ashes over the part which was to be burnt black. Both red and black colour go right through in every case. All-red and all-black vases are occasionally found, the red with geometrical decorations in white colour, and the black with incised decoration. The forms are usually very simple, but at the same time graceful, and the grace of form is more remarkable when it is remembered that none of this early pottery was made on the wheel. Pottery of almost similar technique was found in Crete in 1905 during the American excavations at Vasiliki near Hierapetra. The general appearance of the Cretan pottery is much the same as that of the Egyptian, and the duller red and black decoration (which here has a spotted or mottled appearance) was probably obtained in the same way, the black spots being due to the action of separate fragments of the baking material. This discovery is important in view of the probable early connexion of the Cretan and Egyptian culture-centres. A very similar red and black ware, usually of thinner and harder make, and often with a brighter surface, was introduced into Egypt at a later date (XIIth Dynasty), probably by Nubian tribes who were descended from relatives of the Neolithic Egyptians. From their characteristic graves these people are called the Pan-Grave people, and their pottery is known by the same name. Perhaps rather later in date than the early red and black wares, but by no means certainly 'so, the second characteristic type of primeval Egyptian pottery is a ware of buff colour with surface decorations in red. These decorations are varied in character, including ships, birds and human figures; wavy lines and geometrical designs commonly occur. The whole fades of this ware seems very un-Egyptian, and it has been compared with the decorated " Kabyle pottery " of modern times. To call the people who made this ware " Libyans " on the strength of this resemblance of their pottery to that of the modern Kabyles, six thousand years later, seems, however, rash. The prehistoric Egyptians were not Kabyles or Libyans, but Nilotes, and the peculiar decoration of their pottery, which seems so strangely barbaric, is in reality merely the most ancient handiwork of the Egyptian painter, and marks the first stage in the development of pictorial art on the banks of the Nile (2). Other types of pottery (3), in colour chiefly buff or brown, were also in use at this period; the most noticeable form is a cylindrical vase with a wavy or rope band round it just below the lip, which developed out of a necked vase with a wavy handle on either side. This cylindrical type outlived the red and black and the red and buff decorated styles (which are purely Neolithic and predynastic) and continued in use in the early dynastic period, well into the Copper age. The other unglazed pottery of the first threedynasties is not very remarkable for beauty of form or colour, and is indeed of the roughest description (4), but under the IVth Dynasty we find beautiful wheel-made bowls, vases and vase-stands of a fine red polished ware (4). This fine ware continued in use at least as late as the XVIIIth Dynasty, though the forms of course differed from age to age. Under the XIIth Dynasty, and during the Middle Kingdom generally, either this or a coarser unpolished red ware was in use. The forms of this period are very characteristic (5); the vases are usually footless, and have a peculiar globular or drop-like shape—some small ones seem almost spherical. At this period the foreign " Pan-Grave " black and red pottery was also in use (see above). The art of making a pottery consisting of a siliceous sandy body coated with a vitreous copper glaze seems to have been known unexpectedly early, possibly even as early as the period immediately preceding the Ist Dynasty (4000 B.c.). Under the XIIth Dynasty pottery made of this characteristic Egyptian faience seems to have come into general use, and it continued in use down to the days of the Romans, and is the ancestor of the glazed wares of the Arabs and their modern successors (6). The oldest Egyptian glazed ware is found usually in the shape of beads, plaques, &c.—rarely in the form of pottery vessels. The colour is usually a light blue, which may turn either white or green; but beads of the grey-black manganese colour are found, and on the light blue vases of King Aha (who is probably one of the historical originals of the legendary " Mena " or Menes) in the British Museum (No. 38,010) we have the king's name traced in the manganese glaze on (or rather in) the blue-white glaze of the vase itself, for the second glaze is inlaid. This style of decoration in manganese black or purple on copper-blue continued till the end of the " New Empire " shortly before the XXVIth (Saite) Dynasty. It was not usual actually to inlay the decoration before the time of the XVIIIth Dynasty. The light blue glaze was used well into the time of the XIIth Dynasty (British Museum, No. 36:346), but was then displaced by a new tint, a brilliant turquoise blue, on which the black decoration shows up in sharper contrast than before. This blue, and a somewhat duller, greyer or greener tint was used at the time for small figures, beads and vases, as well as for the glaze of scarabs, which, however, were usually of stone-schist or steatite —not faience. The characteristically Egyptian technique of glazed stone begins about this period, and not only steatite or schist was employed (on account of its softness), but a remarkably brilliant effect was obtained by glazing hard shining white quartzite with the wonderfully delicate Xllth Dynasty blue. A fragment of a statuette plinth of this beautiful material was obtained during the excavation of the Xlth Dynasty temple at Deir el-Bahri in 1904 (British Museum, No. 40,948). Vessels of diorite and other hard stones are also found coated with the blue glaze. A good specimen of the finest XIIth Dynasty blue-glazed faience is the small vase of King Senwosri I. (2400 B.c.) in the Cairo Museum (No. 3666) (6). The blue-glazed hippopotami of this period, with the reeds and water-plants in purplish black upon their bodies to indicate their habitat, are well known. Fine specimens of these are in the collection of the Rev. Wm. MacGregor at Tamworth (8). The blue glaze of the XIIth Dynasty deepened in colour under the XIIIth, to which the fine blue bowls with designs (in the manganese black) of fish and lotus plants belong (8) (British Museum, Nos. 4790, &c.). The finest specimens of XVIIIth Dynasty blue ware have come from Deir el-Bahri, in the neighbourhood of which place there may have been a factory for the manufacture of votive bowls, cups, beads, &c., of this fine faience, for dedication by pilgrims in the temple of Hathor (good collection in British Museum). Towards the end of this dynasty polychrome glazes came into fashion; white, light and dark blue, violet, purple, red, bright yellow, apple-green and other tints were used, not only for smaller objects of faience, such as rings, scarabs, kohl-pots, &c., but also for vases, e.g. No. 3965 of the Cairo Museum(, the ground colour of which is white with a decoration of flower wreaths in blue, yellow and red, with an inscription in delicate blue (6). This polychrome faience was also now used for the ushabti figures which were placed in the tombs; hitherto they had been made exclusively of stone or wood, never of glazed stone or pottery; henceforward they were made exclusively of faience, but the polychrome glazes (e.g. 'British Museum, Nos. 34,180, 34,185) were soon abandoned, and the plain blue and black of the ordinary vases was adopted. The ushabtis of King Seti I. (British Museum, No. 22,818, &c.) (9) are fine specimens of this type. Under the XXth Dynasty the blue paled and became weak in quality, but the priest-king family of the XXIst used for their ushabtis a most brilliant blue glaze, an extraordinary colour which at once distinguishes the faience of this period from that of all others (9). The same brilliant glaze was used for vases of various kinds as well. The polychrome ware had developed into a style of inlaying with glazed faience, which we see at Tel el-Amarna under the XVIIIth Dynasty (1400 B.c.) (10), and at Tel el-Yahudiya under the XXth (12oo B.c.), used for wall decoration. After this time polychrome ceramic decoration seems to have died out in Egypt, but was retained in Asia (see below). The technical skill of the New Empire potters is shown by such a remarkable object as the gigantic Uas-sceptre of blue glazed faience, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (12, 8). This is the largest known piece of Egyptian glazed faience; really large vases of faience are not found. Faience vases were very commonly built up or carved out of a ball of the dried material, perhaps held together by some mucilaginous substance —it seems impossible that such a substance could ever have been fashioned on the wheel. Sometimes even small vases were made of separately moulded pieces united by a glassy material (6). Under the XXIInd Dynasty small glazed vases with figures of deities or animals in relief became common; these were made in moulds (6). In the matter of form the faience pottery of the New Empire follows the lead of the new earthenware types. Forms had altered considerably from those of the XIIth Dynasty. In place of the simple flowing lines of that period, we now find egg-shaped bodies with cylindrical necks, with or without handles; great amphorae with almost pointed bases, sometimes with the handles perched upon the shoulders of the vase; flat-tipped, squat jugs; little handleless vases somewhat resembling the modern kulla, " mit mehrfach eingezogenem Bauch" (V.B.), and the common flat flask-like type known as the " pilgrim bottle " (6, 13, 14, 15). Owing to the extended foreign relations of Egypt at this time, imported vases from Greece and Asia, including Mycenaean Bugelkannen and Cypriote black " base ring " jugs, have been found in the tombs and deposits of this age (14). Imitations of foreign forms, especially the Bilgelkannen, are found' chiefly in faience (British Museum, 22,731, is an imitation of a Minoan jug from Crete). The faience forms of the XVIIIth and XXIInd Dynasties include also the kulla shape, the pilgrim bottle, miniature amphorae, &c. (see fig. 6), and miscellaneous forms not found in common pottery, imitating metal and stone vases, e.g. the blue-green ribbed pots of the XXIInd Dynasty, imitating bronze originals, and the alabastron of the XVIIIth; these last go back to the Xllth Dynasty. Very pretty cups in the shape of lotus flowers (see fig. 7) are to be seen in most museums; they are of the XIXth Dynasty, and mostly came from Tuna (6, 8). The continuance of the old red polished ware of the IVth Dynasty during the Middle Kingdom to the time of the XVIIIth 1 Foreign pottery had been imported into Egypt at least as early as the XIIth Dynasty, e.g. the Cretan polychrome ware of the Middle Minoan period (Kamares style) found at Medinet Ghuraib (" Kahun ") and the Cypriote (?) " punctuated " black ware from the same site, and from Khata'anah (17). The date between the XIIth and XI IIth Dynasties is certain (14), but the Middle Kingdom Egyptians do not seem to have imitated these earlier foreign forms. British Museum, No. 17,046, is, however, probably an instance of an Egyptian idea imitated by the foreign potter (17).common (17). Another FIG. 7.—Egyptian blue-glazed pottery. ware of this period has a highly polished yellow face, some-times becoming ruddy, and passing off into a pinkish red; in this ware the pilgrim bottles are common. An unpolished, brittle, and thin yellow ware was also used largely for wine-vases. The rougher, commoner red and brown ware at this period became decorated with designs, chiefly of lily wreaths, &c., in paint of various colours (13). This new development hid the ugly colour of the common pottery and was a cheaply obtained imitation of the expensive, polychrome glazed ware of the period (see fig. 8). This painted pottery continued in use until about the time of the XXIInd Dynasty. From this time onwards, till the Ptolemaic period, the commonest pottery was a red ware, usually covered with a white slip. Under the XXVIth Dynasty a finer homogeneous white ware occurs, usually for vases with a rude representation of the face of the god Bes on their bodies. The XXVIth Dynasty marks a new period of development in the history of Egyptian faience. The old deep blue colour had gradually deteriorated into an ugly green (British Museum, No. 8962), which was replaced by the Saite pott ;rs with a new light blue of very delicate tint, imitated, in accordance with the archaistic spirit of the time, from the old light blue of the earliest Dynasties. The glaze itself is very thin and " sugary " in texture. The old decoration of the blue with designs and inscriptions in manganese-black is abandoned; on the ushabtis the inscriptions are now incised. Side by side with this light blue glaze was used an unglazed faience, a sort of composition paste with the colour going right through.2 It i has more variety of colour than the glazed faience, light green and a dark indigo blue being found as well as the Saite light blue. Some-times it is of a very soft, almost v chalky consistency. It was used FIG. 8.—Egyptian pottery for vases, but more generally for `With painted ornament and small figures and scarabs (6). The sham marbling. commonest vase-form of this period is the pilgrim bottle, now made with the neck in the form of a lily flower, and with inscriptions on the sides wishing good luck in the New Year to the possessor. These flasks appear to have been common New Year's gifts. Under the Sebennyte kings of the XXXth Dynasty a further new development of glaze began, of a more radical character than ever before. The colour deepened, and the glaze itself became much more glassy, and was thickly laid on. The new glaze was partly translucent, and differed very greatly from the old opaque glaze. It first appeared on ushabtis at the end of the Saite period. A curious effect was obtained by glazing the head-dress, the inscription &c., of the ushabtis in dark blue, and then covering the whole with translucent light blue glaze. This method was regularly used during the succeeding Ptolemaic and Roman periods, when the new style of glaze came into general use. A yellowish green effect was obtained by glazing parts of the body of the vases in yellow and covering this with the translucent blue glaze. This method was used to touch up the salient portions of 2 Some of these figures appear to have been made with a mixture of sand, clay and coloured glass which produced a real glassy porcelain—the earliest porcelain of which we have any record. made of fine blue paste. Dynasty has already been mentioned. Characteristic of the latter period of this ware are long jugs with attenuated body and single handle, which, because they have been found with Mycenaean objects in Cyprus, have been considered to be n of foreign, probably of i Syrian origin. They .; may, however, be Egyp- tian. Vases of the same ware in the shape of men W W and animals are not un- the designs in relief, imitated from foreign originals, a style which now became usual on vases. The usual decoration is mixed Egyptian and classical, the latter generally predominating. A large range of colours was employed; purple, dark blue, blue-green, grass-green, and yellow glazes all being found. The glaze is very thickly laid on, and is often " crazed " (6, 8). A remark-able instance of this Romano-Egyptian faience is the head of the god Bes in the British Museum (No. 35,028). A hard, light blue, opaque glaze like that of the XXVIth Dynasty is occasionally, but rarely, met with in the case of vases (British Museum, Nos. 37,407, 37,408). We know something of the common wares in use during this period from the study of the ostraka, fragments of pottery on which dated tax-receipts, notes, and so forth were written. From the ostraka we see that during the Ptolemaic period the commonest pottery was made of red ware covered with white slip, which has already been mentioned. At the beginning of the Roman period we find at Elephantine a peculiar light pink ware with a brownish pink face, and elsewhere a smooth dark brown ware. About the 3rd century A.D. horizontally ribbed or fluted pots, usually of a coarse brown ware, came into general use. These were often large-sized amphorae, with very attenuated necks and long handles (see fig. g). During the Byzantine (Coptic) period most of the pottery in use was ribbed, and usually pitched inside to hold water, as 4 the ware was loose in texture and porous. During the Coptic period, a lighter ware was also in use, decorated with designs of various kinds in white, brown or red paint on the dull red or buff body. In Nubia a peculiar development of this ware is characteristic of the later period (Brit. Mus. No.30,712). A polished red ware of Roman origin (imitation Arretine or " Samian ") was commonly used as W well. under the Ptolemies, show- continued in use until replaced in ing Greek influence in the shapes. the early Arab Period by the well- known yellow and brown lead-glazed pottery, of which fragments are found in the mounds of Fostat (Old Cairo). Western Asia.—Palestine. The most ancient Palestinian pottery is the rough " Amorite " ware from Lachish (Tel el-Hesi) which sometimes has wavy handles like the prehistoric Egyptian (18). Later we find actual Mycenaean pottery in Philistia (19), an interesting testimony to the truth of the legend which brings the Philistines from Crete; the fourth and fifth cities of Lachish (1200-1000 B.C.) show us the first ordinary Phoenician or.Israelite pottery—buff or red lamps and bowls, the latter with the handles sometimes painted in bistre, and vases showing strong Egyptian influence; while pottery from Cyprus and elsewhere is found as in Egypt. The only remarkable later development of Palestinian pottery is the Phoenician imitation of Egyptian faience of the Saite period, of which the characteristics are well known. Some of this may actually have been made in Egypt. The course of the potter's art in Mesopotamia and Persia appears to have run on lines of development parallel with the art in Egypt, for the country between the Tigris and the Euphrates is rich in good clays, and, wherever the invention of glass arose, its application to pottery decoration was certainly developed at an early period in Egypt and in Mesopotamia. Two characteristic uses of clay wares must, however, be pointed out, though they have nothing to do with vase-making. i. The Babylonian and Assyrian use of clay shaped into tablets, cylinders and prisms, to produce an imperishable record of the literature of the time. The cylinders and prisms were thrown on the potter's wheel and are consequently hollow; the circular form was then sliced down, and the surface was impressed with cuneiforminscriptions, the prism, tablet or cylinder being subsequently dried and fired. 2. The architectural use of glazed bricks and slabs. While the Egyptians remained content for the most part with the application of their brilliant alkaline glazes to small and delicately-finished objects, the Babylonians and Assyrians developed an architecture decorated with glazed and coloured brickwork. The bricks were of very open texture, and the ornamental pattern or figure subjects were obtained by a strong outline in dark-coloured clay which formed a kind of cloison or boundary, the shallow cells between being filled in with coloured clays—yellow, red or white--or with coloured glazes of turquoise, green or blue, yellow and purplish brown. These glazes are obviously like the Egyptian, but they are more coarsely prepared and are always full of bubbles and consequently more or less opaque. Yet the severe simplicity of the method, the splendid colour effect, strong yet sumptltous, entitles these productions to a very high rank among all the world's work in clay and glaze. The " Frieze of the Archers " now in the Louvre may be mentioned as one of the finest productions of its kind, and the Louvre and British Museum possess the finest collections of this early architectural use of glazed and coloured clay. (See also MURAL DECORATION.) Coming to ordinary pottery we find that in early times well-formed vases made of good clay, unglazed and unpainted, were made. Small figures of deities made of the same clay are often found. It is practically the same terra-cotta as that of the inscribed tablets. None of the forms are particularly distinctive (see fig. Io). The excavations of the French in Persia have s, i, brought to light at Moussian in Susiana an extremely interesting painted ware, which belongs to a very early period. The decoration is usually geometrical. The technique seems to be analogous to the Mycenaean-Greek (Firnismalerei), and the whole effect is very like that of the Greek, Late Mycenaean or Dipylon pottery. The ware is buff in colour and fine in texture, with a polished surface. The decoration is sometimes in polychrome, but usually in the grey-brown iron-glaze (?) alone. This pottery degenerates later and finally disappears (20). During the Sargonide period in Assyria (7th century B.C.) we find a polychrome faience (colours usually white and brown) obviously of Egyptian origin. It was used, not for vases, but architectonically for friezes, ornamental bosses, &c. Its origin may be found in Egypt under the XVIIIth Dynasty, when Egyptian influence extended to the Tigris, and Babylonia had regular diplomatic relations with Egypt. In Asia this polychrome decoration in glazes continued to be used long after it had ceased W + V to be made in the country of its origin; the enamelled brick decoration of Persepolis is the descendant of the glazed inlay decorations of Tel el-Amarna, Tel el-Yahudiya and Kuyunjik. In the Sargonide period blue glazed vases occur (see fig. II) which are probably of Egyptian origin or are Phoenician imitations of Egyptian faience. Characteristic of the Parthian period is a coarse green glazed pottery of which the slipper-shaped coffins of the time were made (British Museum, Nos. 1645-1647) (21). This glaze possibly contains a small amount of lead; in appearance it is not unlike the contemporary translucent blue glaze of Egypt. The Egyptian glaze certainly spread into western Asia, and we find the last specimens of it in the tiles from the destroyed city of Rhagae in Persia, which may be as late as the 13th century A.D. The lead glazes, unknown in Egypt till the late Roman period, may be of Asiatic origin, though this important point is by no means clear.

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.