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The History of Egyptian Faience

Faience workers depicted in 26th Dynasty tomb of Ibi (Aba), Thebes

Faience workers depicted in the 26th-Dynasty tomb of Ibi (Aba) at Thebes
(after Davies 1902, pl. XXV).

‘Egyptian Faience’ is a glazed non-clay ceramic material. Whilst, as the name indicates its wide spread in Egypt, it was also found and manufactured in the rest of the Near East and the Mediterranean. Egyptian faience should not be confused with the earthenware of the Faenze region of Italy, now more commonly known as ‘majolica’.

To the ancient Egyptians, faience was known as "tjehnet" which meant brilliant or dazzling and it was thought to shine with light as the symbol of life, rebirth and immortality. This man made material was probably intended to resemble precious stones like turquoise and lapis lazuli.

Faience objects were very common in ancient Egypt from the Predynastic times until the late Arab period in the fourteenth century AD. Faience was used to produce a wide range of artefacts from beads and small objects to vessels, tiles and architectural elements.

Production of faience in ancient Egypt
Faience technology evolved after complex experimentations during the early dynasties, from applying glaze on carved steatite figures to the exploration and manipulation of quartz paste. The early faience was shaped using stone working methods to make beads, amulets and small objects. Efflorescence as a self glazing method was adopted in addition to the older method of application.

During the Middle Kingdom period, the cementation method of glazing was developed and used; the forming techniques remained simple such as modelling and moulding on a form or core. The faience production flourished in the New Kingdom when a greater diversity of shapes and techniques were introduced that probably derived from the advance of glass technology. These techniques helped improve the faience body by mixing it with frit and powdered glass and this improvement, coupled with the introduction of new designs and ideas, led to enhanced material, colours and shapes. Many of the finest faience objects were produced in this period.

Faience manufacture appears to have declined in quality during the Third Intermediate Period, with a return to the traditional methods and the loss of much of the technical knowledge. The Late Period witnessed a revival in faience production, and a new range of excellent objects and glazing appeared. The Greco-Roman Period shows evidence of close relations between faience production and pottery manufacture which includes throwing faience vessels on the wheel and applying glaze as slurry. The faience link to pottery in the Roman period probably caused a shift towards glazed pottery production and gradually led to the decline of faience.

This page last modified 6 November, 2009 by Kathryn E. Piquette

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