TITLE: Krater with floral decoration
CULTURE: Ancient Egypt
PERIOD: Roman period, 2nd-3rd Century A.D.
SIZE: Height 22.5 cm and diameter 25 cm
PROVENANCE: Private collection in Portugal. French private collection, acquired in 1990.
STATE OF CONSERVATION: In good condition with some restoration on the top of the rim.
This is a faience krater for the mixing of wine with water. It is clearly from a funerary context, and possibly originally had a lid. It is decorated in two colours: turquoise for the wide, everted rim and for the two lotus flowers and a black tone of faience for the rest of the vessel.
The body is ornamented with spiraling ribs that could have various implications. These motifs would seem to be inspired by winding of the snakes’ bodies around a vertical axis. This decorative pattern enjoyed great popularity in the Near East and the Mediterranean world, spreading into architecture, with examples such as fluted columns, and also into decorative arts, as can be seen in this vessel. Another explanation of these ribs or grooves is that they evoke a vine, as this also winds around a vertical axis in the same manner. The vine is a very common motif on tombs and coffins, both Egyptian those of the Roman period. Wine is related to the concept of regeneration as it is considered a drink that can promote rebirth, as can be seen in reliefs and scenes on sarcophagi in which the deceased are depicted holding wine cups.
The ends of each of the handles of the krater are in the form of open lotus flowers in relief. As close observers of nature, the Egyptians knew that the blue lotus opened at dawn, facing the east and with its intense gold centre contrasting with the blue petals. This also suggested the imitation by the flower of the sky greeting the sun while giving off a soft, gentle perfume. In the evening the lotus closed again and sunk into the waters below. The process was repeated anew each day. The flower was thus closely associated with the rising and setting of the sun and so with the idea of resurrection and rebirth.
The perfume of this flower was exceedingly pleasing to the Egyptians, who used it also in ornamentation of objects connected with cosmetics. There are various scenes, above all in tombs, of the New Kingdom, where women can be seen wearing a lotus flower in the hair, or alternatively, smelling the perfume of the flower or offering it to other to smell. It was also used as a funerary adornment as can be seen from the remains of lotus flowers in sarcophagi, one of the most famous being that of Tutankhamun, where these flowers had been cast over the mummy.
It is difficult to establish where this type of krater was produced, but most probably they were produced in Egypt. Many examples of the same typology have been found in the region of El Faiyum, although most of the examples come from Upper and Middle Egypt, and also from the region of Alexandria.
- AA.VV. L’Égypte Romaine. L’autre Égypte. Musée d’Archéologie méditerranéenne, Marseille. Réunion des musées natinaux. 1997. pp. 118-119.
- BUHL, M. L. Remarks on a group of late Egyptian faience vases. Acta Archaeologica 26. 1955. pp. 188.
- NENNA, M. D. La vaisselle en faïence d’époque gréco-romaine: Catalogue du Musée gréco-romain d’Alexandrie. Cairo. 2000. pp. 351.