Egyptian faience (pronounced FAY-ahns) is one of the oldest artificially made substances; even older than glass. First made in Egypt about 5500 years ago, it was called tjehenet, “that which is shining, gleaming or dazzling.” Faience is merely a ceramic typically composed mostly of desert sand but despite its humble ingredients, its beauty and longevity made it a worthy material for gracing the tombs of even the greatest of Egyptian pharaohs. Although faience could be made in a variety of colors, shades of blue and green were favored by the Egyptians for use in tombs because of their association with life and regeneration.
The development of faience began in Egypt somewhere near the end of the Predynastic period. During this time, faience beads and amulets were most common. During the Early Dynastic period, the size of faience objects increased and vessels and small figurines became popular. Faience production reached its height during the New Kingdom. The use of glass for coloring, colored patterns, marbleizing and inlaying resulted in objects of great beauty and complexity.
Object that were used for daily living such as vessels and jewelry boxes were made of faience as were games and small devotional objects and figurines. Jewelry such as necklaces and rings were also sometimes composed of faience and faience tiles were used as home decoration. Since faience was believed to promote rebirth of the deceased, funerary markers, statuettes and amulets were often made of faience. Throughout Egyptian history, royalty used faience objects to decorate their homes, their bodies and their tombs. A lovely example of faience use in royal tombs is that of King Djoser. Click here to see a photo of one of these beautiful faience tiles.
A faience object was created by first mixing crushed quartz (either sand or pebbles), lime or chalk, colorant (typically copper oxide) and an alkali (typically natron). Water was then added to form the mixture into a paste. At this point, the object was shaped, either by hand or by pressing the mixture into a mold. Once the desired shape was perfected, the object was fired in a kiln.
Several methods for glazing the faience object were used that range from adding an additional ingredient to the paste before shaping the object, called Efflorescence, to applying a glazing paste to the already-shaped object, called Application. In another method, called Cementation, the object is surrounded by glazing material and placed within another vessel during firing.
The Romans used faience for the making of amulets, however glass eventually became more popular for this use. Mesopotamians also used faience as early as 1500 B.C. One of the few places in the world today where traditional faience is still produced is Iran.
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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
You can see Diana's own artwork by visiting her site at www.dianablake.net.