May 12, 2013

At the Met: Egyptian Vessels

Black-Topped Red Ware Jar, ca. 3650-3300 B.C.; pottery.

Vessels––jugs, vases, bottles, jars, bowls––can have great beauty in their form and color. Perhaps some of their power comes from their function of holding liquids, leading to rounded forms reminiscent of body shapes, inviting tactile appreciation. I enjoy my ordinary objects at home, but when I'm at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and can see brilliant examples of pots from many cultures and epochs, it makes me especially happy. I've written about pots at the Met before: on Chinese porcelain here, American pottery here, and Korean ceramics here. On my recent visit to the Met I wandered the Egyptian wing, a favorite place, and was very drawn to photographing some of the vessels on view. What could be more satisfying than the grand curve of this large pot, its balance from a full shoulder to narrow stand, its polished red color topped by black?

Stone Jars, ca. 3300-2900 B.C.

The difficulty of making stone vessels, which would hold liquids better than ceramic, made them into luxury goods.

Jar Imitating Stone, ca.1353-1336 B.C.; pottery, paint.

It is fascinating to see this jar after reading about the stone jars, but still its rounded shape is elegant, and the paint free and expressive. It looks like "faux" decoration has a long history.

Hieroglyph Rendered as a Bowl with Feet, ca. 3700-3450 B.C.; pottery.

This amusing little bowl actually has a very serious purpose: for "sacred water used in rituals" as the wall label puts it. The hieroglyph for pure or clean is the same as the shape of this small bowl.

Jar with Flamingos, ca. 3650-3300 B.C.; pottery, paint.

Some of the ancient jars are painted with patterns and I find this one charming, with long-necked birds lined up in a row, their heads little curves and their legs repeated angles.

Long Necked Bottle, Large Jar, Dynasty 18, ca. 1353-1336 B.C.; fired clay.

The color of the blue in these vessels is particularly beautiful. The blue pigment that was used for ceramics was cobalt. The shape of the graceful long neck of the smaller bottle is an elegant note in front of the larger jar. 

Large Jar, detail of decoration

The decoration on this jar is very fine, with elaborate detail. The wavy lines on the neck indicate water.

Drinking Vessels and Cosmetic Jars, and Mirrors, Dynasty 18 (ca. 1479-1425 B.C.)

Seeing this array of small vessels let me enjoy the differing shapes, all beautifully balanced, and the range of color and material, precious and luxurious.

Glass jars, Dynasties 19-20, ca. 1320-1085 B.C.

The color of these jars is so rich; translucent, almost opaque glass seems to deepen color.

Fragments from Mosaic Bowls, ca. 1427-1400 B.C.; glass

Seeing these colorful shards makes me thankful that we have as many whole, fragile, ancient objects as we do, and are able to admire and learn from them in our museums.


  1. I appreciate your eye for detail and nuance, and sharing your observations with us. Lately, because I hate housework and usually rush through it, I'm trying to notice the curve of a chair leg, or a decorated drawer pull as I dust them. I got the idea from a Buddhist reading. It slows me down and calms me. Reading and seeing your blog today has the same effect.

    1. Thank you Cecilia, I enjoy sharing. And what a wonderful idea about housework; I hate it too. The idea of paying attention in that way while cleaning is an excellent thought.