iE032103 001+01 Click to enlarge image
This is a part of a beaded net, depicting a winged scarab (a provenance of scarab is not established) and three figures of the Four Sons of Horus: Qebehsenuef (falcon), Imseti (human), Hapy (baboon) and Duamutef (jackal) - due to the fragmentary and worn nature of the amulets it is difficult to identify the gods. It is believed to date from the Third Intermediate Period (c.1070- 700 BC) Image: Finton Mahony
© Australian Museum

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