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Ancient Egyptian Cermamics Essay

This is essentially an age of discovery, but it is likewise an age for the revision of paat theories. Such a statement ie particularly true of our knowledge of ancient pottery ; for while, on the one hand, we find the archaeologist studying every modem craft in order to obtain hints ав to ancient methods, on the other hand wo have many modern, craftsmen keen enough about the development of their own craft who are able to throw light on the work of their fellows in remote antiquity. Ae such a craftsman, therefore, and not as an Egyptologist who finds valuable material in the commonest potsherds for hie reconstruc tion of an ancient civilisation, I venture to. address you. It seems to me that too much has been made of the unglacd Egyptian pottery of every period.

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The ordinary red, buff, or brown pottery — evidently manufactured for the simpler domeatio uses, and largely for the common people has little to вау for itself from the potter’e point of view, however vuluublo it may be as material for sequence- dating to the student of history. It presents no essential difference, either in material or manufacture, from other forms of primitive pottery, whether of ancient or modem times. Its shapes, though characteristic, can hardly be called distinguished, and they have exercised comparatively little influence on the subsequent development of the potter’s art in other countries. Compared with tho early pottery of other great races, like tho Greeks, Persians, or Chinese, the origin of which is almost as remote, the ordinary unglazed Egyptian pottery occupies a very secondary position. The only exception I should make to this statement is the red ware with shining black mouths, belonging to predynastic times.

It is quite otherwise, however, when wo consider its ancient glazed wares dating from early dynastic or prc-dynastic times, with their brilliant turquoise colours of green or blue shade colours which, if not unrivalled, have at all events remainod unsurpassed through all the centuries. European scholars during the past century or so have described this glazed ware as “ Egyptian Porcelain” or a? “ Glazed Faience.” The reason for this terminology is not far to seek, in fact it is crystallised in Brogniarts famous “Traits des Arts Ceram- iques,” to which the antiquary of our day generally refers with as much confidence as if it had boeu published yesterday. Honouring Brogniart, as we do, as the pioneer who first tried to reduce all that had been done in pottery to a system, it is only fair to point out that the foundation of a knowledge of pottery which may reasonably be called scientific, has arisen since Brogniart died. To-day we may say safely that the basal material of pottery of any kind is one of tho natural clays, and that we cannot conceive the existence of a kind of pottery which does not contain some form of clay as an essential ingredient.

If, however, it can be proved that the brilliantly glazed wares of the Egyptians did not contain clay as an essential ingredient of their subsUnce, we must abandon the use of tho names “ porcelain ” or ” faience,” that have hitherto been used to describe them. But how are we to settle, at this distant date, the nature of the material from which theso beautiful objects were fashioned’? In the first place we have, of course, the aid of chemical analysis, and the following table presents the most reliable analyses of the body of this Egyptian glazed ware that I have been able to obtain from objects of the various periods It will be seen that these analyses, in spite of minor variations, are remarkably constant in their main constituent, viz., silica, and the first question we have to ask ourselves is how such a material could have been obtained by a mixture of uatural substances.

But to Brogniart and his contemporaries who, as it appears to me, were handicapped by the idea that the material must be a form of pottery, the figures given by chemical analysis could only bo explained on the suppo sition that a large proportion of sand had been mixed with a very small proportion of clay to make the substance in question, and no one seems to have inquired whether such a mixture would possess the necessary ploaticity to enable it to be fashioned by the general methods of the potter. After having tried many mixtures of the kind indicated by these analyses, I have been forced to the conclusion that the small amount of clay indicated by the percentage of alumina found would be entirely insufficient to give a material that could be shaped by pottery methods, and wc have, therefore, to search for some other explanation of the general composition of the material used by the ancient Egyptians. It has been recognised for some time that the analyses given above would correspond roughly with the analyses of many ordinary sandstone and quartzite rocks, and my researches have satisfied me that the ancient Egyptians used some natural sandstone from which they curved the objects that have Wen so freely found in the tombs glazed with these brilliant glazes. It may perhaps W interesting if I indicate how this view has gradually arisen in my mind, because that may serve as another instance of the reluctance with which most of us depart from generally accepted views. When I first commenced to study pottery, the art of the ancient Egyptians was quite remote from my path, and I therefore accepted the views that I found put forward in the most authoritative books, und assumed, without question, that the glazed objects could be made by mixing a very littlo clay with a large per centage of eand.

Like other students, I did not appreciate the fact that the earliest glazed objects recovered from Egyptian tombs comprise small scarabs, beads, necklace pendants, and such like things, carved in schist, steatite, and even in harder minerals, like rock crystal. In that fact there was a hint which ought to have led past observers to a sound view of this question long ago The generally accepted view among Egyp tologists io-dav is that the blue or green glazes first appeared on objects carved from natural stones, and, remembering the con servative nature of the early Egyptian people, it Bccms to me natural that some soft sand stone Bhould have been finally settled upon as the material particularly adapted to these especial glazes.

I may be reminded that large tiles, glazed all over, were used to line the walla of tombs in early dynastic times, but I must point out that the carving of fiat tiles from natural sandstone, and the application of turquoise glazes to them, is an art that has persisted to modern times. We find, for instance, that many of the tiles used for decorating tho mosques and tombs in India and Central Asia, long after the ancient Egyptian civilisation had expired, were simply slabs of carved sandstone, and this craft represent» tho survival of a technical method used by the Egyptians as early as the First Dynasty. A consideration of the forms used in the early objects of turquoise glaze, whether green or blue, that have been recovered from tombs, will support the view that they, were carved from some form of natural stone, and not, as most authorities have stated, thrown on the potter’s wheel.

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In addition to tho evidence of chemical analysis, and of technical methods of carving, we have a more complete and satisfactory teat available. We may, for instance, treat these Egyptian glazed figures as a pctrologist would treat an unknown rock to determine its structure and the nature of its constituents, and os I have from time to time obtained specimens of such material, which can be dated with reasonable accuracy, I have had prepared a number of thin jslicc* which can be examined by all the well-known methods of microscopic examina tion with polarized light, etc., and the evidence furnished completely confirms the view that tho Egyptians must have used a kind of sand stone, or quartzite, for their glazed objects, and not a substance containing any appreciable amount of clay. Of course, the number of specimens that I have been able to sacrifice in this way to scientific research is not very great, but in all the specimens I have examined, from the time of the XVIIIth Dynasty down to that of the Roman occupa tion, I find the general use of some natural siliceous rock.

Is a section of an Egyptian glazed figure of the XVIIIth Dynasty viewed under crossed nicols, as one would examine a rock section, and its optical properties arc at we have a granular amorphous material which docs not react with polarized light, and scattered through this a number of crystalline specks which we can identify as the remains of the quartz and felspar crystals that were mixed with the china clay to form the body of the porcelain, and have not been entirely combined with it. Fig. 3 is a section of a typical modern earthenware an ordinary tile manufactured by my firm and token casually from stock and it exhibits a structure quite analogous to porcelain; except that, as we might expect, the modern mechanical methods used in preparing the ingredients of our pottery have produced a finer and more homogeneous substance than the ancient porcelain.

This new evidence, which so conclusively supports the views already advanced, warrants us therefore in definitely separating the ancient Egyptian material from pottery, and 1 venture to prokse that it ought to be described as “ Glazed Siliceous Ware,” for such a title would include all the objects carved from natural stones whether they be schist, steatite, dioritc, rock crystal, or sandstone. A further point of great interest is clearly established by the microscopic examination of these thin slices. Many observers have already pointed out that the ancient Egyptian materialowed its strength to the glaze and not to the once seen to be eminently characteristic.

The material consists of fine, sharp grains of quartz mixed with a few opaque particles of magnetic oxide of iron, but with no trace of any clay substance. Similar sections from a figure lating from tho XXVth or XXVIth Dynasty, and from a little figure of the god lies, which is probably as late as Homan times, reveal a similar structure, so that this series proves the existence of an unaltered technique, at all events for objects of certain kinds, for a period of at least 1500 years, at the very time when change was more rife in Egyptian methods than in the previous 2000 years. A comparison of such preparations with others made from typical objects of porcelain or pottery shows the profound difference made in the material by the introduction of a considerable proportion of clay. Fig. 2 represents a slice of Chinese porcelain cut from a specimen sent to me some years ago by the late Dr. Hushcll as an authentic fragment of Sung porcelain, as he had himself disinterred it from the rubbish mounds that mark the site of the ruins of the ancient Pekin destroyed by Kublai Khan in the thirteenth century.

The difference between this material and the ancient Egyptian is strongly marked. Instead of finding the whole substance a mass of crystalline grains that can be readily identified by means of their reaction with polarized light, body. In fact where such objects have been buried in situations where the glaze has been decomposed, the body a soft and friable mass that could, as a rule, be readily powdered between the fingers, a state of affairs that does not take place with pottery. When slices of pottery and porcelain are examined micro scopically, the glaze is always found as a with oxide of copper—differing therefore from ordinary pottery glazes in containing no appreciable amount of alumina or of oxide of lead. Such glazes will only melt to a decent surface on materials very rich in silica, and any attempt to apply them to the surface of ordinary pottery fails disastrously, for on such a surface they yield only an irregular, puckered, mass. Professor Eliott Smith, in his masterly little sketch, “The Ancient Egyptians,” claims that one of the glories of the Nilotic peoples was their early discovery and use of metallic copper. He suggests that the first metallic copper may have been accidentally produced by some Egyptian wonum dropping her earring of malachite into a charcoal fire. I would remind you of the passionate admiration shown by the ancient Egyptians for the beautiful blue and green stones, lapis-l&zuli, turquoise, and malachite.

All these stones were so highly prized as gem stones that we cannot wonder that any accident should have set the minds of these ingenious people at work towards their imitation at a very remote date, and it is at all events significant that the first coloured glaze or enamel that made its appearance, so far as we know, in the world is this wonderful blue or green turquoise glaze which owes its colour to copper, and to copper only. This art of glazing or enamelling on stone appears to me definite coating of glass of appreciable thickness, resting on the body material. We may return to our sections of Chinese porcelain and of English earthenware, Fig. 4 and Fig. 5, and, if we examine them under ordinary light, the glaze layer is readily distinguished from the close- groincd amorphous body, which is, of course, much more opaque than the glaze. Represents a specimen of tho Egyptian ware, and the difference is at once striking and char- acteristic.

The glaze does not form a definite glassy layer resting on the body, but is seen to have sunk in or eaten its way in between the grains of quartz, so that we obtain a hard skin, in which the body grains can be clearly distinguished embedded in and partly dissolved by the glaze. As the glaze is strongly coloured it looks dark against the mass of the body the very reverse of what we find with the glazes of pottery and porcelain. Thia action. between the glaze and the crystalline grains of the body also enables us to explain a fact frequently commented on, that where hard minerals, like rock-crystal or diorite, have been glazed and the glaze has been worn off, the mineral is always found to present a pitted surface, showing where it has been attacked and partly dissolved by the glaze. As to the nature of these earliest glazes, they are always found to consist essentially of silicates of the alkalies and lime coloured to have arisen as a branch of the art of the jeweller and goldsmith, and not of the art of the potter, for tho objects fabricated, down to the end of the Xllth Dynasty at all events, were for the most part small in size, and adapted only for use as jewellery, as personal adornment, or as adjuncts to the toilette. They consist almost exclusively of beads, composition were ultimately used on pottery vessels made from clay, by interposing between the clav and the glaze a thin layer of slip exceedingly rich in silica.

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For the present the evidence on this head is far from definite or complete. In late Homan times, and im mediately on the Arab occupation, we find an extensive manufacture of Egyptian pottery made in this way, but we arc in doubt as to when the practice originated, and whether on its first appearance this method supplanted the older method or whether, as seems to me more probable, the two methods went on side by side for some centuries, the earlier method being used for small traditional objects, especially those connected with religious rites and cere monies, and the newer method gradually making its way by the development of larger and more ambitious vase forms. In this connection we have the fact that the Persian potters, con temporary with the close of the Egyptian dynasties, manufactured both tiles and vases coated with a sandy face and glazed with blue and green glazes analogous to the Egyptian ones.

It may be that they acquired this knowledge from their occupation of Egypt during the time of Cambyees and his successors, though this is hardly more than a probable guess, and until a large scries of dated objects has been examined by the means described in this paper we shall be unable to form any very definite conclusion as to tho date of the new method which bridged scarabs, rings, seals, badges, pectoral plates, etc., all having a close affinity in style to contemporary gold work or jewellery, and pre senting no resemblance to the contemporary work of the potter in common clay. Even when vase forms appear they are of small size (the Tunch cups, etc.), and their shapes and outlines are derived, os I have said, from those common in carved stone, while they have no resemblance to tho contemporary shapes of ordinary pottery. If my theory be correct then we reach another important point, viz., that the discovery of this art of enamelling on objects curved in various stones, including sandstone, did not follow the discoveryiof.the art of making glass, but was really the fom ct origO’Oi glass, of enamelling on metal, and of pottery glaze. This view lis supported ,by the nature of the earliest objects of cloisonne work, in which beautiful coloured stones such as lapis-lazuli, green felspar and carnelian were freely used many centuries before the use of coloured glass pastes.

The real order in which the different fusible artificial silicates made their appearance at all events in Egypt (though probably not in other countries) appears to be, (1) blue or green turquoise glaze on stone objects, (2) glass paste, (8) glass wares made in the Egyptian fashion (not by blowing). Who have still to account, however, for the successive steps by which glazes of analogous over the gap between the “ glazed siliceous wares” and Egyptian glazed pottery. Since the highly siliceous character of the early glazed wares has been more clearly recognised by Egyptologists, and it was realised that some alternative must be found for the belief in a mixture of Band with a small percentage of clay to give it plasticity, the suggestion has been made that the objects I believe to have been carved in sandstone were really modelled in sand, held together, and made sufficiently workable to be moulded, by the addition of some fatty or mucilaginous material. Such organic substances would be destroyed and disappear in the early stages of the firing, and then, of course, the glaze would hold the grains of sand together in the way already shown. Tins method may have been used for making the wares of the XXVth and later Dynasties, in which the whole composition appears to be a mixture of sand and glaze, but it can hardly have been in general use with sand alone, for though I have with considerable difficulty succeeded in making a few small glazed figures by this method, they arc softer and more rotten in body than any Egyptian glazed objects I have ever handled.

In closing this account of ancient technical methods, which can only be regarded as tenta- tive and suggestive pending the examination of a much greater number of dated specimens, I must mention one of the later technical developments which is of great interest. All Egyptologists are familiar with the incised ushnbti figures of the XXVIth Dynasty just referred to, which are found in such amazing quantities in the tombs of that epoch. These ushabtis are denser and harder in substance than those of previous which is of great interest. All Egyptologists are familiar with the incised ushabti figures of the XXVIth Dynasty just referred to, which are found in such amazing quantities in the tombs of that epoch. These ushabtis are denser and harder in substance than those of previous dynasties, they possess very little gloss, and are of a pale greenish • blue colour, which is fouud to be fairly uniform throughout the mass. There can be no doubt that these were made in moulds, the lines being sharpened up by hand if necessary, and it is perfectly clear that the composition, a mixture of sand and the turquoise frit or glaze, was uniform throughout, that there was no final coating of glaze applied to the surface, and further that such wares were fired to a higher temperature than that used for the ordinary glazed objects. French writers have not hesitated to describe this material as “porce lain,” citing the fact that the earliest French porcelains of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the Florentine porcelain of the late sixteenth century, were made by mixing a large proportion of glass with the other ingredients.

If such a material as that of these XXV Ith Dynasty ushabtis is to be spoken of as porcelain, then we should have to acclaim these Egyptians as the first makers of porcelain in the world, for Chinese porcelain—the true porcelain par excellence—did not make its appearance for many centuries later. But the basal argu ment of this paper is that no substance can be rightly described as porcelain or pottery unless clay is an essential ingredient. These ushabtis do not contain any clay, and therefore I should not describe them as porcelain, but as “fritted siliceous ware,” in contra distinction to the “glazed siliceous wares” of other days. The most astonishing use of glass or glaze in the body of pottery is probably later still in date, apparently of Ptolemaic or Roman times, for a few small bowls have been found, glazed with the more glassy and transparent blue glaze of the late period, which are strongly marbled, as if made in imitation of a dark-blue veined onyx. When such pieces are held up to the light it is found that the marbling is produced by the introduction of fragment of a deep coloured turquoise glaze in the material, so that the sides of the bowl appear set with blue windows. I have chosen to speak only of the turquoise glazes because they are the most characteristic, and are the only ones that occur in every period, from the earliest to the latest. The white and polychrome glazes that began to make their appearance under the XVIIIth Dynasty, and were so largely developed in Roman times, must form the subject of a separate study.

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Ancient Egyptian Cermamics Essay
Artscolumbia
Artscolumbia
This is essentially an age of discovery, but it is likewise an age for the revision of paat theories. Such a statement ie particularly true of our knowledge of ancient pottery ; for while, on the one hand, we find the archaeologist studying every modem craft in order to obtain hints ав to ancient methods, on the other hand wo have many modern, craftsmen keen enough about the development of their own craft who are able to throw light on the work of their fellows
2021-02-10 05:43:19
Ancient Egyptian Cermamics Essay
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