On this page...

Dazzling hues of greens and blues, a brilliant smooth glazing – these are the striking characteristics of a non-clay ceramic material known as faience. Used by the ancient Egyptians from Predynastic to the Islamic period, this material is composed of a combination of ground quartz or sand crystals with small amounts of sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and copper oxide.

The properties of faience include a vibrant lustre of natural blue-green hues, which the Egyptians referred to as tjehent, literally meaning brilliant or dazzling. It was known as Egyptian Faience in the western world to distinguish it from a superficially similar tin-glazed pottery made in Faenza, Italy, called majolica.

Faience has the extraordinary ability to self-glaze, due to the nature of the combined materials. When the ceramic is kiln-fired, the sodium in the wet paste rises to the surface as it dries and forms a glaze – a process known as efflorescence.

Glazing can also be achieved through cementation, which occurs when faience objects are surrounded by glazing powder which bonds to their surface during firing. The other method is the application glazing, in which the glaze is painted and fired. Often, a combination of these methods was used in the production process of a single item or a batch of faience objects.

Faience can be formed into any desired shape by various methods, including casting in moulds. Egyptian artisans knew and used different methods of forming and glazing their adornments and ritual accessories.

Researched by Natalie Cassaniti