Ancient Egyptian Pottery and Ceramics

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    Ancient Egyptian Potters

    Ancient Egyptian potters depicted in a wall-painting as they wedged, formed, and fired their wares.
    Ancient Egyptian potters depicted in a wall-painting as they wedged, formed, and fired their wares. From Tomb 2, Beni Hasan, c. 1900 BCE. Image Courtesy of the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum

    Ancient Egyptian potters crafted some truly fascinating pottery and ceramic objects. Pottery used for utilitarian tasks such as cooking, storage, and shipping. Even more interesting, however, are the ceramic figures, vessels, and even sarcophagi which were very much a part of ancient Egyptian funerary practices.

    Ancient Egyptian potters were skilled craftsmen and had a certain level of respect within Egyptian society as a whole. Here they are depicted in a wall-painting from about 1900 BCE......MORE approximately 4,000 years ago!

    In the uppermost level of the image, we can see (from left to right) a potter finishing (probably burnishing) a bowl, another throwing stoking a tall vertical kiln, and an assistant bringing more clay to a potter working on a wheel.

    In the middle level we see two men mixing clay using their feet, stacks of ware being either loaded or unloaded from a tall kiln, and (most likely) quantities of pots being taken to market or sent to their new owners.

    The the lowest section, we see an assistant wedging clay, a potter cutting a small bowl off the wheel (perhaps off the mound), and two more potters working on the wheel.

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  • 02 of 17

    Ancient Egyptian Tomb Pots

    Ancient Egyptian pots found in Old Kingdom tombs located in Giza.
    Ancient Egyptian pots found in Old Kingdom tombs located in Giza. Currently at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Guide

    Several Old Kingdom tombs in Giza contained jars such as these. Burials included items which the ancient Egyptians believed their dead would need in the afterlife, including water and storage jars, cooking vessels, eating bowls, perfume jars, cosmetic jars, and so forth.

    Several of the wares found in such burials are shaped differently and different forms of decoration on them, suggesting that the ancient Egyptians not only supplied their dead with local goods, but also the more expensive...MORE imported items as well.

    Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, About.com Guide to Asian History

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  • 03 of 17

    Ancient Egyptian Figure and Bottle-Pendant

    Ancient Egyptian pottery, including a figure of a hippo and a bottle-pendant in the form of a fish.
    Ancient Egyptian pottery, including a figure of a hippo and a bottle-pendant in the form of a fish. Pieces are located at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Guide

    Because of some of the visual conventions they used, we sometimes forget that the ancient Egyptians were astoundingly detailed observers of the life around them, including plants, animals, and fish.

    Here we see a figurine of a hippopotamus done in Egyptian paste (often erroneously called fiance by archaeologists). The hippopotamus was venerated in the form of Tawaret, at first a goddess of all things fearful and evil. Later, her attributes softened and she became known as the goddess of (fierce)...MORE protection and fertility. In this form, she was often called Opet. Figurines of hippopotamuses placed in tombs for protection of the deceased.

    This particular figure is from the second intermediate period, sometime between the 13th and 17th Dynasty (1704 - 1370, BCE.) The bottle-pendant in the shape of a fish is from approximately the same time period, circa 1550 BCE.

    The third item may have been a stool. This tall pot is from Giza (Tomb G) and dates from the 4th Dynasty, between the reigns of Sneferu to Khufu (2575 - 2525 BCE).

    Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, About.com Guide to Asian History

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  • 04 of 17

    Ancient Egyptian Paste Chalice

    An ancient Egyptian chalice in the form of a blue lotus.
    An ancient Egyptian chalice in the form of a blue lotus. This piece is located in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Guide

    This blue lotus chalice is from Abydos, Tomb D 118, from the 18th Dynasty. It was fashioned of Egyptian paste sometime from 1504 - 1349 BCE, between the reigns of Thutmose III to Amenhotep III.

    The color of this pieces is due to copper in the paste body. The areas of greening are most likely caused by the oxidation of copper that has broken away from the sodium within the glaze matrix.

    Although we often associate this turquoise blue (copper blue) color with Egyptian paste, the ancient Egyptians...MORE did use other colorants as well, including cobalt.

    Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, About.com Guide to Asian History

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  • 05 of 17

    Ancient Egyptian Bowl with Lotuses

    An ancient Egyptian pottery bowl depicting lotuses. Located at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
    An ancient Egyptian pottery bowl depicting lotuses. Located at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Guide

    Found at Abydos, Tomb F 15, this bowl dates from the joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, between 1479 and 1458 BCE. It is made of Egyptian paste, with the design being incised while wet and most likely brought out with ink after firing.

    Quite lovely bowls such as this were made in the New Kingdom, as well as many other objects made of the turquoise blue Egyptian paste. The interior of this bowl shows closed lotus blossoms extending from a central pool, with fish swimming between them.

    Bowls...MORE such as this were used as votive objects in tombs, temples, and shrines, especially those dedicated to Hathor (the goddess of love, motherhood and joy).

    Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, About.com Guide to Asian History

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  • 06 of 17

    Egyptian Burial Pottery and Sarcophagus

    Ancient Egyptian burial pottery, including a pottery sarcophagus.
    Ancient Egyptian burial pottery, including a pottery sarcophagus. Located at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Guide

    Have you ever wondered about the earliest sarcophagi and burial pottery? This is a 6-foot tall pottery sarcophagus. It has a cut-out where the face was, with a separate painted face-plate; the body was pushed into the fired sarcophagus through the opening.

    Even in later time periods there may not have been enough wood in southern Egypt to make the more familiar stone or wood sarcophagi, so they just got out the clay and used that instead for less important burials.

    The lidded jars are earlier...MORE versions of canopic jars that would, in later time periods, be made of alabaster (a stone). And of course, what afterlife would be complete without drinking and eating vessels, lamps, cosmetic bowls, and so on?

    Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, About.com Guide to Asian History

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  • 07 of 17

    Ancient Egyptian Scarabs

    Ancient Egyptian scarabs carved from Egyptian paste and stone.
    Ancient Egyptian scarabs carved from Egyptian paste and stone. Located in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Guide

    Egyptian paste, a self-glazing ceramic body, was first developed prior to 5,000 BCE. The Egyptians used a paste body that contained little to no clay, which made for a very stiff body that was best suited for carving and press molding.

    Many scarabs were made using a combination of molding and carving, such as this blue Egyptian paste one (shown with a neighboring scarab made of stone). Inscriptions often filled nearly every space, including backs, sides, and sometimes even on the beetle's wings.

    Sc...MOREarabs invoked the meanings of resurrection, renewal, and transformation ... all of which were of extreme importance to the Egyptian ideas of death and the afterlife ... and are very prominent in the caches of ancient Egyptian artifacts that have been found.

    Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, About.com Guide to Asian History

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  • 08 of 17

    Ancient Egyptian Amphora

    An ancient Egyptian amphora from the later part of the 18th Dynasty.
    An ancient Egyptian amphora from the later part of the 18th Dynasty. Located in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Guide

    The pottery of Egypt began with plain pots. By 4000 BCE. pit kilns gave way to vertical kilns, and by 3500 BCE. the wheel was used to help form pots. Plain ware was succeeded by pottery painted with slips. Porosity was lessened first by smoothing the pottery surfaces, and later by burnishing.

    This Egyptian amphora was created between 1350 and 1321 BCE. Pottery vessels decorated with cobalt pigment, such as this one is, began appearing in the later part of the 18th Dynasty. Elaborate vessels were...MORE produced in the pottery workshops of Akhet-aten (modern el-Amarna) and Maikata (now Thebes).

    Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, About.com Guide to Asian History

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  • 09 of 17

    Egyptian Amphora Detail

    Details of an ancient Egyptian amphora dated from the late 18th Dynasty.
    Details of an ancient Egyptian amphora dated from the late 18th Dynasty. Located in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Guide

    This detailed view of the Egyptian amphora on the previous page show the reclining calf on the lid. The rim is decorated with applied clay pendants imitating bunches of grapes. The strap handle and the gazelle on the shoulder both suggest Syrian influence.

    By the early portion of the 4th century BCE, much of the ware produced was a polished monochromatic with white images on a red background. By the end of the 4th century BCE, ware had switched over to a buff clay body decorated with dark brown,...MORE red and black pigments.

    Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, About.com Guide to Asian History

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  • 10 of 17

    Ancient Egyptian Piriform Jar

    An ancient Egyptian piriform pottery jar from el-Amarna. Located at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
    An ancient Egyptian piriform pottery jar from el-Amarna. Located at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Guide

    This blue-painted piriform (pear-shaped) jar was found at el-Amarna and dates from the 18th Dynasty, during the reign of Akhenaten (1350-1334 BCE.).

    Like many vessels that were made during this time period, this jar has a conical bottom, allowing it to be set firmly into sand. The decoration is especially lovely: loose, free strokes of black pigment highlighting and defining both the blue-pigmented areas and those that remain the buff-orange of the clay body.

    Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski,...MORE About.com Guide to Asian History

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    Ancient Egyptian Figure-Vase

    An ancient Egyptian pottery figure-vase in the form of a woman and child.
    An ancient Egyptian pottery figure-vase in the form of a woman and child. Located in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Guide

    This lovely figure-vase in the form of a woman and child is from the 18th Dynasty, ca. 1450 to 1400 BCE. Note the way the potter has captured the child's posture with astounding sensitivity to how actual children hold themselves. The woman's face, although somewhat stylized, also holds a feeling of serenity.

    One of the hallmarks of aesthetic meeting and working with utility is how the form of the woman as she kneels gives this vase a large volume, while at the same time working seamlessly into...MORE the artistic form.

    Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, About.com Guide to Asian History

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    Egyptian Long-Necked Vessel

    An ancient Egyptian long-necked pottery vessel from Abydos.
    An ancient Egyptian long-necked pottery vessel from Abydos. Located in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Guide

    This long-necked vessel was found at Abydos (Tomb K 2) and dates from the New Kingdom period, ca. 1570 - 1070 BCE. The ancient Egyptian potters were adept at using different colors of Egyptian paste to create patterns of color on the fired ware. That technique may have been employed to create the polychromatic features, such as the floral collar, found here.

    This piece was molded around a core rather than being thrown. Egyptian paste, being so non-plastic, was (and is) impossible to throw on the...MORE potter's wheel.

    Image Courtesy of Kallie Szczepanski, About.com Guide to Asian History

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  • 13 of 17

    Ancient Egyptian Senet Game Board

    An ancient Egyptian game board made using Egyptian paste.
    An ancient Egyptian game board made using Egyptian paste. From the Brooklyn Museum's exhibition of Egyptian artifacts called To Live Forever, February 12-May 2, 2010. © Brooklyn Museum

    This Senet game board has a separate sliding drawer and set of thirteen game pieces. It is inscribed for Amenhotep III of the New Kingdom (ca. 1390-1353 BCE). Senet was a popular board game by the Third Dynasty of the Old Kingdom. Scholars believe that the game may have had a special meaning tied to death, judgment, or the ability to talk to the dead because it is depicted so many times in funerary art.

    This set is an especially fine example of craftsmanship and Egyptian paste. Note the fineness...MORE and clarity in the black-line design and the exceptional fit of the drawer inside the board game's box.

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    Egyptian Osarian Figurines

    Ancient Egyptian pottery statues placed in tombs. Located at the Field Museum, Chicago.
    Ancient Egyptian pottery statues placed in tombs. Located at the Field Museum, Chicago. Image Courtesy of boliyou / Flickr

    Osiris was the god of death, the afterlife, and regeneration or rebirth. He was also seen as a benevolent judge of those who had died.

    Osirian figurines represent mummies and were deposited with the dead during burial. The linking of Osiris with mummification was strongly linked with the planting of seeds in the earth, giving rise to new plant life and rebirth. The figurines all bear hieroglyphic legends painted, carved, or impressed on them related to these concepts.

    Note the contrast between the...MORE stone and Egyptian paste figurines. More than likely the stone figures were once painted with vibrant colors as well. The bright blue Egyptian paste figures, however, seems to hold to the concepts of continued life simply by virtue of their undiminished vibrancy and beauty.

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    Egyptian Pottery Tomb Statues

    Egyptian tomb statues located at the Field Museum of Chicago.
    Egyptian tomb statues located at the Field Museum of Chicago. Image Courtesy of boliyou / Flickr

    This group of Osarian figures are similar to those on the previous page. These do not seem to have fared as well as the two Egyptian paste figurines previously seen, perhaps due to more exposure to the world outside the tomb where they were originally placed. Although the copper-based blue of the color would remain light-fast, the surfaces may have been worn or abraded by sand or dirt.

    Another possibility is that the copper-bearing stone used as a colorant did not contain as much copper. A third...MORE possibility is that the colorant used contained a blend of copper and cobalt.

    It is important to remember that pure powdered metal oxides such as potters use today were not known at that time. The ancient Egyptians used metal-rich rock as their source for colorants.

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    Egyptian Pottery Leopard

    An ancient Egyptian pottery leopard, photographed by nikoretro in the British Museum in London.
    An ancient Egyptian pottery leopard, photographed by nikoretro in the British Museum in London. Image Courtesy of nikoretro / Flickr

    This lovely Egyptian paste reclining leopard was probably used as a tomb offering or votive figure. The leopard was associated with divinity and the god of the dead, Osiris. Note how, even though it is simply molded, it conveys the essence of "feline".

    The art of ancient Egypt can truly be called the art of the dead. Art works were done to be placed in tombs in preparation for the recipient's afterlife. The care and fine craftsmanship of funerary ceramic ware is outstanding, especially when...MORE compared to the plain pottery that was used in everyday life.

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    Egyptian Paste Hippopotamuses

    Two ancient Egyptian pottery hippos, photographed by nikoretro in the British Museum in London.
    Two ancient Egyptian pottery hippos, photographed by nikoretro in the British Museum in London. Image Courtesy of nikoretro / Flickr

    Fancifully decorated Egyptian paste hippopotamuses are not at all unusual to find among ancient Egyptian funerary ceramics. Often, decorative motifs include lotus and papyrus. These are especially pertinent, given that hippopotamuses lived in the Nile.

    Hippos are extremely powerful animals and can cause great destruction. The males are especially territorial and will attack boats and people with their razor-sharp teeth. Even now, they are the mammal that kills the most people in Africa each year.

    Ancient Egyptians had to contend with these beasts on a daily basis, both when out fishing on the Nile and when the animals left the river to graze further inland. It is little wonder that they both feared and revered the hippopotamus.