Welcome to the third, and final installment in the Ancient Egyptian amulet series. Today: the material faience. – prized for its intense blues and versatile for its inexpensive, even humble origins…
I think my interest in faience
is twofold. I love clay, and the alchemy of firing and glazing. I am continually inspired by Art History. And that color! I could dive in and get lost. It really resonates with me…
The Egyptian word for faience is “tjehnet” meaning “shining, dazzling”. Archaeological evidence dates the use of faience to as early as 3500 BCE. It was developed as a substitute for lapis lazuli and was used for beads, amulets, statuettes, bowls…
Comprised of finely ground quartz, lime, copper oxide, water, and a binder/gum arabic – this was a recipe of common ingredients, easily sourced in the area. The materials are mixed with water to form a paste, them molded or modeled and fired when dry. The paste is thixotropic
– and hard to work with as it is much less plastic and malleable than clay. The interesting thing about this material … it is self glazing!
The term is “efflorescence of glazing” – glaze materials ( water soluble alkali salts) are mixed with quartz. As the water evaporates, the salts migrate to the surface, recrystallizing on the surface. When fired= glaze.
Knowing that – take a look at the detail in these amulets of Egyptian deities:
In my research recently I have found recipes and may attempt mixing up a batch of Egyptian paste in the fall when I return to the Ceramics studio /classroom on my regular schedule. In the past I have used “Egyptian Paste” from art suppliers like Dick Blick. (At the writing of this article, I could not find this prepared version for sale. Recipes for making from scratch are readily available with a Google search.)
Its like trying to sculpt peanut butter – the consistency is so gooey! As per the ancient methods – I found bisqued ceramic molds the most user friendly: they are porous, and absorb moisture quickly, allowing the molded paste to release, and drop out easily.
The challenge is patience. The paste is best left alone… as the crystals form on the surface as the piece dries. Sometimes patience is tough… Shown here are a few samples done when researching this material.
I love the colors and the history of the materials. For all its quirks – I do think I am inspired to give it another go!
Thanks for following this exploration! I would love to hear what you think…
Until next time –
*The ushabti was a funerary figurine used in Ancient Egypt. Ushabtis were placed in tombs among the grave goods and were intended to act as substitutes for the deceased, should he/she be called upon to do manual labor in the afterlife. They were used from the Middle Kingdom (around 1900 BC) until the end of the Ptolemaic Period nearly 2000 years later.