Egyptian Faience: History, Characteristics, and Production Methods

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Faience is a type of pottery made from a quartz-based mineral paste that was highly valued in Ancient Egypt. The creation of faience goes back to the Predynastic period (c. 5500–3100 BCE), and it was widely used in various forms until the end of the pharaonic period (332 BCE). In this article, we will explore the history and technology of Egyptian faience, including its characteristics, uses, and production methods.

Statuette of Nemesis in Form of Female Griffin with Wings, EGYPTIAN, CLASSICAL, ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN ART

What is Egyptian Faience?

Group of 16 amulets strung as a necklace, in the typical bright faience blue

Egyptian faience is a vitreous material composed primarily of silica, lime, and an alkali flux, with the addition of a colorant. It is not a true porcelain or glass but rather an intermediate between the two. Faience has a distinctive appearance, with a smooth, highly polished surface that is usually light blue or turquoise in color, although other hues such as yellow, green, and black were also used.

Characteristics of Egyptian Faience

The color of faience was obtained by adding metallic oxides such as copper, cobalt, and iron to the basic composition, and the characteristic blue-green color of Egyptian faience was achieved by using copper. Faience was often glazed to give it a shiny, smooth surface and protect it from damage. Some examples of faience were left unglazed, however, and instead were polished to a high gloss.

egyptian faience Gaming Board Inscribed for Amenhotep III with Separate Sliding Drawer
Gaming Board Inscribed for Amenhotep III with Separate Sliding Drawer, EGYPTIAN, CLASSICAL, ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN ART, DATES ca. 1390-1353 B.C.E., DYNASTY Dynasty: 18, PERIOD: New Kingdom, DIMENSIONS: 2 3/16 x 3 1/16 x 8 1/4 in. (5.5 x 7.7 x 21 cm)

Here are some characteristics of Egyptian faience:

  • Composed of quartz, natron, copper or other minerals.
  • Typically has a blue-green color, but can also be found in other colors.
  • Produced by shaping a paste into a desired form, then firing it to vitrify the surface.
  • Often decorated with incised or painted designs.
  • Can be found in a wide range of objects, from small amulets to large vessels and architectural elements.
  • May have been used for a variety of purposes, including religious offerings, jewelry, and decorative objects.
  • Highly prized by ancient Egyptians and other cultures throughout history.
  • Durable and long-lasting, with many examples of Egyptian faience surviving for thousands of years.
  • Provides valuable information about ancient Egyptian culture, technology, and artistic techniques.
  • Considered to be one of the most significant contributions of ancient Egypt to the field of ceramics.

Uses of Egyptian Faience

Kneeling Statue of Nesbanebdjedet - Egyptian Faience
Kneeling Statue of Nesbanebdjedet – Brooklyn Museum
Shabty of Lady Sati, ca. 1390-1352 B.C.E. Egyptian Faience
Shabty of Lady Sati, ca. 1390-1352 B.C.E. Faience, 10 1/4 × 3 1/2 × 2 1/4 in. (26 × 8.9 × 5.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund (Photo: Brooklyn Museum)

Faience was used for a variety of purposes in ancient Egypt, from amulets and jewelry to bowls and vessels. Amulets were small, often highly detailed figures of deities or animals that were believed to have protective or magical properties. They were commonly worn on necklaces, bracelets, or as pendants.

Vessels made from faience were used for everyday purposes, such as storing food or liquids. These vessels were often decorated with hieroglyphs or other symbolic designs. Faience bowls were sometimes used as funerary offerings and were sometimes included in tombs as part of the grave goods.

Production of Egyptian Faience

The production of faience was a complex and time-consuming process that required skilled craftsmen. First, the raw materials were ground into a fine powder and then mixed with water to form a paste. The paste was then shaped into the desired form and allowed to dry. The object was then fired at a high temperature, which caused the materials to vitrify and become hard and durable.

diagram shows the production process of egytian faience
This diagram shows the production process of Egyptian Faience

One of the distinctive features of faience is its use of a core made from a cheap, porous material such as clay or mud. The faience paste was applied over this core, which was then fired along with the paste. Once the faience was fired, the core was removed, leaving behind the hollow faience object.

DIY: How to make Egyptian Faience at home

If you’ve ever been fascinated by the art and technology of ancient Egypt, you may be interested to know that you can make a type of ceramic material called Egyptian faience using simple materials and tools. Faience was an important material in ancient Egypt, used for everything from small amulets to large architectural elements. The process of making faience is relatively straightforward, but it does require careful attention to detail and a few specialized materials. Here’s how to make your own Egyptian faience at home:

Materials:

  • Powdered quartz
  • Copper compound (such as malachite or azurite)
  • Sodium carbonate (also known as soda ash)
  • Water
  • Mixing bowl
  • Measuring cup
  • Mixing spoon
  • Shaping tools (such as molds, clay sculpting tools, or your own hands)
  • Drying surface (such as a plaster slab or foam board)
  • Kiln or oven for firing (optional)

Steps:

1. Measure out your ingredients. The recipe for Egyptian faience is typically one part powdered quartz, one part copper compound, and three parts sodium carbonate. You can adjust the recipe as needed to make more or less faience.

Measure out your ingredients. The recipe for Egyptian faience is typically one part powdered quartz, one part copper compound, and three parts sodium carbonate. You can adjust the recipe as needed to make more or less faience.

2. Mix the powdered quartz, copper compound, and sodium carbonate together in a mixing bowl.

Mix the powdered quartz, copper compound, and sodium carbonate together in a mixing bowl.

3. Add enough water to the mixture to make a paste. The paste should be thick enough to hold its shape when molded, but not too dry or too wet.

Add enough water to the mixture to make a paste. The paste should be thick enough to hold its shape when molded, but not too dry or too wet.

4. Use shaping tools to form the paste into the desired shape. You can use molds, clay sculpting tools, or your own hands to create anything from small amulets to large vessels.

Use shaping tools to form the paste into the desired shape. You can use molds, clay sculpting tools, or your own hands to create anything from small amulets to large vessels.

5. Place the shaped faience on a drying surface to dry. A plaster slab or foam board works well for this.

Place the shaped faience on a drying surface to dry. A plaster slab or foam board works well for this.

6. Once the faience is completely dry, you can decorate it with incised or painted designs, if desired.

Once the faience is completely dry, you can decorate it with incised or painted designs, if desired.

7. Fire the faience in a kiln or oven to vitrify the surface. This step is optional, but will make the faience more durable and long-lasting. If you choose to fire the faience, heat it gradually and carefully to avoid cracking or other damage.

Fire the faience in a kiln or oven to vitrify the surface. This step is optional, but will make the faience more durable and long-lasting. If you choose to fire the faience, heat it gradually and carefully to avoid cracking or other damage.

With these simple steps, you can create your own Egyptian faience and experience the ancient art and technology of this remarkable material.

FAQ

What is Egyptian faience?
Egyptian faience is a type of ceramic material that was popular in ancient Egypt. It is made from a mixture of powdered quartz, copper compound, and sodium carbonate.

What was Egyptian faience used for?
Egyptian faience was used for a wide range of purposes, from small amulets to large architectural elements. It was often used for jewelry, amulets, and other small decorative objects, as well as for tiles, figurines, and other larger pieces.

Why was Egyptian faience so popular in ancient Egypt?
Egyptian faience was popular in ancient Egypt because it was durable, easy to shape, and could be made in a wide range of colors. It was also relatively easy to produce, so it was accessible to many people.

Can I make Egyptian faience at home?
Yes, you can make Egyptian faience at home using simple materials and tools. The process involves mixing powdered quartz, copper compound, and sodium carbonate together, shaping the mixture into the desired form, and then drying and firing the faience. You can also check out our step-by-step list for instructions.

Do I need a kiln to make Egyptian faience?
A kiln or oven is not strictly necessary to make Egyptian faience, but it can be helpful for firing the faience and making it more durable. If you don’t have access to a kiln, you can still make faience using the other steps of the process.

What colors can Egyptian faience be made in?
Egyptian faience can be made in a wide range of colors, from blue and green to yellow, red, and even black. The color is determined by the copper compound used in the mixture, which can vary in shade depending on the source and preparation.

Is Egyptian faience valuable or collectible?
Yes, Egyptian faience is highly valued by collectors and historians, as it provides important insight into the art and technology of ancient Egypt. Antique and rare examples of faience can be quite valuable, but modern reproductions are also available for collectors and enthusiasts.


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