JAIC , Volume 39, Number 2, Article 1 (pp. to )
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC , Volume 39, Number 2, Article 1 (pp. to )




Faience objects were made in Egypt beginning in predynastic times. Faience objects commonly seen were vessels, beads, amulets, shabtis, inlays, plaques, rings, and small statues. Faience production reached its peak in the New Kingdom Period (1570 b.c.-1070 b.c.).

The manufacturing technique of pharaonic faience has been established. In general, it is made of a quartz body with an alkaline glaze achieved by one of three glazing methods: application, self-glazing by efflorescence, or self-glazing by cementation (Vandiver 1982; Kaczmarczyk and Hedges 1983; Tite and Bimson 1986). Molding and inlaying were often used during the manufacturing. However, Egyptian faience underwent stylistic and technological changes during the Ptolemaic Period.

The Ptolemaic Period dates from 330 b.c. to 30 b.c., when Egypt was ruled by a dynasty of Greek origin that coincides with the Greek Hellenistic Period. In the chronology of Egyptian history, it is also known as the first part of the Greco-Roman Period. Ptolemaic faience is known to have been produced in the Delta region of Lower Egypt (fig. 1). Various examples are known to come from Naucratis, Memphis (Petrie 1911), and recently Arthribis (Mysliwiec 1996; Spencer and Schofield 1997).

Fig. 1. Map showing the Delta region of Egypt in the Greco-Roman Period (Baines and Malek 1980, 53)

This study deals only with faience vessels. Little information has been published on the overall stylistic context of Ptolemaic faience vessels. Following examination of several Ptolemaic faience collections in Europe, Egypt, and the United States, the author has categorized these vessels into two stylistic groups: vessels with high relief and vessels with low relief. The surface of Ptolemaic faience vessels is generally decorated in monochrome glaze or two-toned glazes in contrasting colors. In some cases polychrome glaze is used, and in a few instances gilding is applied in localized areas. This study focuses only on a group of low-relief Ptolemaic faience vessels that have two contrasting glaze colors in the collection of the Walters Art Gallery.

A total of 21 Ptolemaic faience vessels and vessel fragments in the Walters Art Gallery were studied. They are listed in table 1. Most of the pieces came from the collection of the Reverend William MacGregor (Johnston 1999, 211).1 All of the pieces date from about 300 b.c. to 200 b.c. (Reeder 1988; Scheurleer 1998). They are probably from the Delta region but have no record of specific provenance. Five of the 21 faience pieces in the group are complete vessels; their size varies, from the smallest jar (acc. no. 48.378, 10.3 x 3.3 cm) to the largest jar (acc. no. 48.365, 20.6 x 6.5 cm). The remainder of the pieces studied are vessel fragments. The distinguishing features of this group include refined shape, thin walls, two-toned glazes in contrasting colors, and detailed low-relief surface decorations arranged in friezes. A typical example is a rhyton (acc. no. 48.368) shown in figure 2. The low-relief design can be seen either on the exterior alone or on both interior and exterior. Similar decorative motifs are repeatedly used, such as rosettes, garlands, palmettos, ivy and berries, waves, scrolls, braids, griffins, and human figures (see table 1). The design can be seen either in relief or in recess, forming interplay of positive and negative images. Foreign influences are apparent in the construction and the decorative motifs of these pieces. The shape of the rhyton shown in figure 2 exhibits some influence of Near Eastern origin, as do other motifs including rosettes, palmettos, and griffins (Reeder 1988). Bands of human figures, animals, or birds are frequently presented in a Hellenistic style (Wallis 1897). The shades of green and blue used in Ptolemaic faience are distinct from the predominant turquoise blue color used in pharaonic faience.

Fig. 2. Rhyton, Egypt, 300-200 b.c. faience, length 22.5, diameter at mouth 9.5 cm, Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, acc. no. 48.368, chipped around rim, lower section restored. (See cover for color version of this photograph.)

Table 1. Ptolemaic Faience in the Collection of the Walters Art Gallery
Accession Number Description Characteristics of Design Elements Analytical Techniques Sample Descrption 
48.365 jar exterior: egg-and-tongue pattern, braids, olive wreath, braids, griffins, garlands with bows, waves, and palmettos xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 
48.367 bowla exterior: two incised bands and garlands with bows interior: waves, dots, olive leaves, tendril pattern, braids, palmettos, and raised dots xeroradiography and ED-XRF, SEM-EDS, and SEM-WDS included interior glazes and body 
48.368 rhyton cornucopia exterior: egg-and-tongue pattern, braids, rosettes, wave pattern, griffins and palmettos, braids, garlands with bows xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 
48.370 jar exterior: egg-and-tongue pattern, waves, ducks and lotus, dancing men, zigzags, and palmettos xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 
48.374 bowl fragment exterior: zigzags, banqueter on a couch and two standing women, and animals xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 
48.375 bowl fragment exterior: nelumbo leaf and rosettes xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 
48.376 bowl fragment exterior: palmettos xeroradiography and ED-XRF, SEM-EDS, and SEM-WDS included exterior glazes and body 
48.378 jar exterior: egg-and-tongue pattern, zigzags, egg pattern, and palmettos xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 
48.379 bowl fragmenta exterior: two incised bands xeroradiography and ED-XRF, SEM-EDS, and SEM-WDS included interior glazes, body, and exterior glazes 
48.380 bowl fragment exterior: rays, garland with bows interior: a rosette, palmettos, braids, and ivy and berries xeroradiography and ED-XRF, SEM-EDS, and SEM-WDS included exterior glazes and body 
48.381 bowl fragment exterior: ivy and berries xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 
48.382 bowl fragment exterior: rosettes xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 
48.383 bowl fragment exterior: rays interior: waves, palmettos xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 
48.484 bowl fragment exterior: animals, waves, and dots xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 
48.385 jar fragment exterior: applied human figures, egg-and-tongue pattern, and leaves xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 
48.386 jar fragment exterior: tongues, zigzags, and garlands with bows xeroradiography and ED-XRF, SEM-EDS, and SEM-WDS included exterior glazes and body 
48.387 base of a jar exterior: row or rays, and humans xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 
48.388 jar exterior: olive leaves, waves xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 
48.1664 tileb exterior: crowned sphinx xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 
48.2696 bowl fragment exterior: waves, ducks and lotus, ivy and berries, and scrolls xeroradiography and ED-XRF sample not taken 

aa a Fragment and vessel have raised yellow dots.

b b Being an exception, it was excluded from the study.

This type of Ptolemaic faience vessel has received little attention. Very few faience samples of this type have been analyzed (Kaczmarczyk and Hedges 1983, app. C; Friedman 1998, 265), and their methods of manufacture have not yet been studied completely (Scheurleer 1986; Nenna and Seif el-Din 1993). The aim of this study was to characterize the materials and methods of manufacture of a group of this type of faience vessel by means of visual inspection and analytical techniques.