Ancient Egyptian Pottery


    The ancient Egyptians were masters at pottery making. They used clay for making  just about anything imaginable.  They used clay to make things like we use plastic today.Cups, plates, bowls, vases, toys, even rat traps have been discovered made from clay.  However, the  ancient Egyptians did not highly decorate their everyday items such as beer cups and bread molds. They used them daily so they were probably replaced often. The ceremonial burial vessels, such as the ones they placed the organs in were of courese highly decorated as well as the sarcophagus the mummified body was placed in. As in all cultures, the wealthier and more power you held the more decoration was placed on the vessels you owned.

        Most Egyptian clay was made from a reddish-brown clay called Nile silt ware. Sounds fancy, but it was readily available along the Nile river. In upper Egypt, a mixture of lime and clay was discovered in the pottery. This clay required higher controlled fires than other clays, it was more difficult to work with. This clay was preferred for decoration.

        Pots were made from molds or cores, usually made from wood, since the early dynastic period(18th to 16th BCE). Hand turned potter’s wheels were used around the 27th to 22nd BCE. Quite a long time span before they began using the wheel. This wheel they used had to be turned with one hand leaving only one hand to shape the clay. This sounds incredible to me being a ceramic student myself. The potter’s wheel is somewhat difficult to master with two hands I cannot imagine having to use this primitive wheel. The Egyptians were truly artists when it came to making anything it seems-pyramids, pottery, heiroglyphics, statues,  the list could certainly go on.

      Egyptians used many different tecniques to decorate their pottery. The decorations were incised onto the pottery(scratched on basically with a tool), painted on, smoked for blackness, slip(watered down clay) was placed on top for decoration and dimension, pigment washes such as red ochre were used, and glazing began during the 4th millenium BCE called mezzomaiolica( a bluish green color).This is a wonderful glaze, that in my opinion, is unmatched in beauty today. Egyptians used geometric shapes and symbols  on their pottery as well as people and animals. During the Middle Kingdom, influences began to show up in Egyptian pottery from Greece and Syria.


  The Egytian way of life is uncovered as you begin to look at their pottery.So many of us have seen pictures of the beautiful tombs and their contents of Egyptian Pharoahs and the wealthy, but it’s not until we see the everday items of this culture that you get a small window into what they were thinking and doing everyday. Ancient Egyptians certainly were amazing artists, but they were also a smart, playful, religious, caring people reguardless of the aristocracy. Egyptians didn’t just make things from clay they were really one with the clay. I was amazed to discover that they made clay toys for their children to play with and rat traps out of clay, how ingenious. This study of Egyptian pottery has unearthed a whole new way of thinking for me about the ancient Egyptian people.


The Ishtar Gate, 575 BCE

       The Ishtar Gate, under King Nebuchadnezzar II,was once considered one of the seven wonders of the world until the 6th century A.D. It’ stunningly beautiful blue glazed tiles and reliefs of  lions, bulls, and dragons in yellow, brown, and red glazed tiles. It’s location was in Iraq, what was once called Babylon in Bible times. A smaller reconstruction , front of the gate only, has been built in  Berlin at the Pergamon Museum. It is built from actual material that was excavated by Robert Koldewey and finished in the 1930’s. It stands

  47 feet high and 100 feet wide.

        During the excavation from 1902-1914, 45 feet of the foundation of the gate was uncovered.Parts of the gate and lions from the processional way are scattered at many different museums around the world. Saddam Hussein was having a smaller reproduction built in Iraq as the entrance to museum that was not completed due to damage of the U.S and Iraq war.

        The beauty and ornate nature of this gate and many other architectural works of art from this time period and land are simply breathtaking to me. The time consuming details and complements of colors used are certainly treats for the eye and I think the babylonians had a knack for  this sort of thing. It was most likely that only the King and the very wealthy probably owned such structures, but any passer by could feast on these wonderful works of art.

Paleolithic (Old Stone Age Art), ca. 30,000-9,000 BCE

     There seems to have been a surge of human creativity some 30, 000 years ago. Most of the carved and painted art of this era were predominately of animals or women. Two famous artworks of this period are the Venus of Willendorf (28,000-25,000 BCE) and the Hall of Bulls (15,000-13,000 BCE).      

        The Venus of Willendorf is a four and a half inch limestone carved statue of a nude woman. She was discovered at her findspot in Austria. Her breasts, belly, and buttocks are very exaggerated, while here arms are very tiny and she has no feet. The people of this period in history were very enamered with the female’s reproductive capabilities and this is expressed through art. Today we see much of the same expression of the human psyche through paintings and sculptures and more.

        There are some different theories surrounding this Venus or Woman of Willendorf. Some experts believe she is depicted as the Greco-Roman goddess of love and beauty who is also depicted nude, thus the name Venus. Others believe the people of this paleolithic period did not have any deities of any kind. We may never really know what the artists real motivations were except that he certainly was preoccupied with the female form, specifically the reproductive parts. Without the science we have today, these people knew women were vital to human pro-creation and human existence.

         The Hall of the Bulls (15,000-13,000 BCE) is an exrtraordinary feat and very beautiful. This ancient cave painting in Lascaux, France is 11′ 6″ long and depicts several different animals including bulls which appear to be the largest in the painting.Some of the animals are outline only while others are completely colored in. I think this really adds a depth to the painting.

          From the time this remote cave was discovered until now, there has been much debate over the purpose and reason the artist or artists created this painting. Some theories surrounding The Hall of Bulls are : mere decoration, hunters believed the images brought the animals under their control, rituals and dances were performed in front of these images to improve their hunting luck, the images served as teaching tools for hunters, the animals were depicted to ensure , magically, survival of herds for food and clothing, animal ancestors were depicted. The list  could go on of all the theories of why these paleolithic people created this beautiful cave painting, but will never know for certain since there are no written documents from this period.

          TheVenus of Willendorf and the Hall of Bulls are two of the most important artworks from this old stone age era, but certainly not the only works. There are many more paintings, sculptures, and reliefs to enjoy and learn from. I personally believe men and women have always had artistic creativity within them, so I am not surprised by these beautiful works of art and expression some 30,000 years ago. If we look around at nature and all of creation how could man not be inspired to express what he sees and feels.

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