CULTURE: Ancient Egypt
PERIOD: Dynasties I – III, c. 3.000 – 2.648 BC
DIMENSIONS: Height 25 cm; diameter 10.1 cm
PROVENANCE: Private collection, Holland, acquired in the 1970s.
CONDITION: Intact, in a good state of preservation. There is some erosion to the lower part of the vase due to past contact with water.
The form is supremely simple: a long cylinder with almost vertical sides, a flat base and at the top, a prominent round lip. Under good light the transparency of the alabaster can be seen with whitish horizontal undulations from the natural marbling of the stone, making the vase even more impressive. Two circular bands worked in relief run around the perimeter of the neck just under the lip. These are decorated with small diagonal incisions to give the effect of two fine ropes. Certain wear and blackening of the vessel are present due to the effects of contact with water.
Before being carved in different kinds of stone, vases similar in shape were made of terracotta by Egyptian potters.
In ancient Egypt, stone vases were regarded as significant luxury items: they only appear in the royal tombs and the highest ranking graves. The art of carving stone vessels has reached its climax at times as remote as the Early Dynastic period and the Old Kingdom already. Stone vessels were mainly used to contain food, unguents and cosmetic oils, and to store them thanks to the thickness and impermeability of their walls. All these substances had many uses in daily life (food, medicines), but they also played a leading role in the religious (offerings in temples, daily unctions of the statues and cult objects) and funeral sphere (preparation of the mummies, belief in the rejuvenating and regenerating effect of these substances). It is therefore not surprising that a very large number of stone vessels were regularly deposited in shrines and in funerary complexes.