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Ball with Internal Pellets

Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art

On View: Egyptian Orientation Gallery, 3rd Floor

An Egyptian invention, faience first appeared about 3500 B.C.E. and was used for a range of objects, including jewelry, amulets, bowls, pots, statuettes, inlays, and gaming pieces.

To make faience, ancient artisans first molded or shaped the raw material—a glassy paste of crushed quartz or sand —and then fired it. Craftsmen glazed faience pieces in three different ways. The simplest and oldest method involved brushing the object with, or immersing it in, liquid glaze before firing. Alternatively, workers mixed a crystalline mineral salt with the faience and allowed it to evaporate to the surface while the object dried. This mineral salt then melted and fused into a glaze during firing. In the third technique, an artisan buried the object in a glazing powder that fused with the core during firing. To decorate faience objects, craftsmen painted on designs before firing or mixed the moist faience paste with mineral colorants.

Unlike faience, glass was a foreign import that arrived in Egypt from western Asia shortly before 1500 B.C.E. The first Egyptian glassmakers relied on molds, limiting production to small objects such as beads and amulets. Later craftsmen perfected techniques that allowed for large, complex pieces.

Recreational Objects

The Egyptians were fascinated by faience’s bright colors and lustrous finish, and fashioned a wide variety of recreational objects in the material.

The hollow faience ball in this case—too fragile to have been tossed—probably served as a rattle during musical performances or religious rituals. The charming object in the form of an ape was a playing piece in one of the many Egyptian board games.
MEDIUM Faience
  • Place Made: Egypt
  • DATES ca. 1539-1292 B.C.E.
    DYNASTY Dynasty 18
    PERIOD New Kingdom
    DIMENSIONS 1 1/4 x Diam. 1 1/4 in. (3.2 x 3.1 cm)
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Egyptian Orientation Gallery, 3rd Floor
    CREDIT LINE Museum Collection Fund
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