My experience at the DIA led my eye to one piece in particular. It was a Cinerary Urn. What had caught my eye was the blue color with green tinting, and also the design of the urn and the characteristics that were incorporated into the design. It was in very good condition with only a few minor chips that I could see from the front. Only the rim on the top of the urn had a chip out of it about 2 inches long and it was only a sliver. Also the bottom of the urn had a chip out of the base but it still maintains the circular shape. From the description tag in the museum I learned that this was a Cinerary Urn that came from Egypt, North Africa.Order now
It was used around the 1st or 2nd A. D. The urn displays a blending of cultures from the Greeks and Romans as were many other works that were produced during the later period of Ancient Egypt. The material that was used to create this is of Faience, or ground quartzite, which is Egyptian in origin. The urn has no writing on it that I could see, it was plain but in that aspect but it had many interesting features such as the lower body is wide on top and narrows slightly going down to the base. It reminds me of a bottom of a snake how the scales overlap one another coiling around the urn.
The upper part of the urn is smooth and narrows slightly as it rises, then flares out and lays flat. There are also 2 handles that are slightly coiled that extend from the top part of the lower body of the urn and connect to the bottom side of the flared opening. It is unique design that is pleasing to the eye and the color is brilliant for being almost two thousand years old. This era in the Egyptians history was not a very good one. They went through many rulers starting with Alexander who built a great city on the mouth of the Nile River. After his demise, his empire split between powerful generals.
This led to the final queen of the Ptolemaic line, Cleopatra VII. She fell into a dispute with her half-brother over the succession and invited Julius Caesar and the Romans to intervene. Caesar then brought Egypt under the control of Rome under the nominal queen ship of Cleopatra. However, she took sides with Mark Antony against Augustus Caesar and lost, they were defeated at the Battle of Actium by Octavian. Egypt then became a Roman province. In the long history of Egypt many foreigners dominated the ancient peoples of the two lands, but none of them were more hated than the Romans.
Anti-Roman sentiment soon crystallized around a new religion, Christianity. This introduced the evangelist Mark sometime in the middle of the first century AD. These Egyptian Christians, called “Copts,” saw this religion as a tool to use in anti-Roman propaganda and agitation. For this reason, the Romans severely persecuted these early Egyptian Christians. But the religion survived in a form far different than the form it assumed in Europe. Egypt, however, would not belong to the Egyptians again for many centuries.
This is where the urn gets its blending of cultures through out the many different rulers and over many years of differences. It is interesting that the Egyptians changed from the practice of mummification to cremation. This was also due to the blending of cultures. The economic stability of Egypt in this era was poor now under the rule of Rome. The Egyptians were on the lowest level of the social scale. Faience is a glazed non-clay ceramic material or silica, composed of crushed quartz or sand, with small amounts of lime, and either natron or plant ash.
Its main ingredient was quartz, obtained from sand, or crushed pebbles to which was added an alkali, a bit of lime and ground copper as colorant. Egypt is rich in silica, in the form of desert sand, but for faience-making, certain sand sources were considered superior to others. Sand is not pure silica, as it contains impurities such as chalk, limestone or iron. The silica forms the bulk of the body. Ground silica/sand is not easy to form, and even though water is added to help shaping, the finished product will crumble when dry. Adding lime and soda helps to cement the quartz grains together as it dries.
But the main strengthening factor is in the firing. The body is coated with a soda-lime-silica-glaze, most commonly a bright blue-green color due to its use of copper. When fired, the quartz body developed its typical blue-green glassy surface. Other colors were eventually possible, such as white, yellows, reds, and even marbled browns, blacks and other hues. This was a popular product that was thought to be as magnificent as the king’s gold. Faience was used to make scepters, beads, jewelry, and many other objects. Glass was used to broaden the range of colors and such as antimony, cobalt and lead.
This was used in turn to color the Faience. This is quite a process that is used to create this type of pottery. Faience was still desired up until about the later 18th century when cheap porcelain became a replacement for Faience. The color that the urn displays is a light blue color with tints of green. I am partial to blue so maybe this is why my eye was drawn to this piece of work. There isn’t really much symbolism that I can place with this urn. I did discover one fact, to the Egyptians, faience was known as tjehnet, and more rarely as khshdj, the same word used for lapis lazuli.
Both words are related to those for the properties of “shining,” “gleaming,” or “dazzling,” Faience was thought to glisten with a light. It was symbolic of life, rebirth and immortality. So the outcome from the process of making faience is one that is shiny, this would be from the ground quartz. The change from mummification to cremation occurred when they encountered the other cultures mainly the Roman’s. The Egyptians have had the problem of preventing the body from decomposing. This was the purpose of mummification to preserve the body and Ka for the afterlife.
When the Egyptians changed their way of burials they also adopted the urn for storing the ashes of the deceased. Some times even cats of the family would get cremated just as they would get mummified. It was not uncommon to mummify cats. They were not only the most popular pet in the house, but their status rose to that of the sacred animals and then on to the most esteemed deities like no other creature before them. During this research I have discovered many interesting facts about Egypt that I didn’t know before. This is due to this era in Egyptian time is not very studied in schooling.
I believe this is because it is the decline of the civilization from the time of building the pyramids and plus there were many other countries that were developing during that time and Egypt wasn’t the hot spot anymore. I am also amazed at how the Egyptians created all of these works of art with so few resources near by. It is really amazing how the earlier civilizations were capable of such grand tasks such as the pyramid and the Coliseum. I enjoyed my trip to the DIA and wish that they could have had the entire collection out.