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Egyptian faience

Egyptian faience is a sintered-quartz ceramic displaying surface vitrification which creates a bright lustre of various colours, with blue-green being the most common. Defined as a “material made from powdered quartz covered with a true vitreous coating, usually in a transparent blue or green isotropic glass," faience is distinct from the crystalline compound Egyptian blue. Notably, faience is considerably more porous than glass proper and can be cast in molds to create vessels or objects. Although not properly pottery, as (until late periods) it contains no clay and instead contains the major elemental components of glass (silica), faience is frequently discussed in surveys of ancient pottery, as in stylistic and art-historical terms objects made in it are closer to pottery styles than ancient Egyptian glass.

Egyptian faience was very widely used for small objects from beads to small statues, and is found in both elite and popular contexts. It was the most common material for scarabs and other forms of amulet and shabti figures, and used in most forms of ancient Egyptian jewellery, as the glaze made it smooth against the skin. Larger applications included cups and bowls, and wall tiles, mostly used for temples. The well-known blue figures of a hippopotamus, placed in the tombs of officials, can be up to 20 cm long, approaching the maximum practical size for faience, though the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has a 215.9-centimetre (85.0 in) faience sceptre from Egypt dated 1427–1400 BC.

It is called "Egyptian faience" to distinguish it from faience, the tin-glazed pottery associated with Faenza in northern Italy. Egyptian faience was both exported widely in the ancient world and made locally in many places, and is found in Mesopotamia, around the Mediterranean and in northern Europe as far away as Scotland. The term is used for the material wherever it was made and modern scientific analyses are often the only way of establishing the provenance of simple objects such as the very common beads.

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  • Boyce, A. 1989. Notes on the manufacture and use of faience rings at Amarna. In: Kemp, B.J. Amarna Reports V. London: Egypt Exploration Society. 160-168.
  • Brill, R.H. 1999. Chemical Analyses of Early Glasses: Volume 1 (tables) and Volume 2 (catalogue), Corning, NY: Corning Museum of Glass,
  • Dayton, J.E. Minerals, Metals, Glazing and Man. Edinburgh: Harrap Publishers. 1978.
  • Friedman, F.D. (ed.). 1998. Gifts of the Nile-ancient Egyptian faience. London: Thames and Hudson.
  • Lucas, A. and Harris, J. R., 1962, Ancient Egyptian materials and industries. London: Edward Arnold.
  • Kaczmarczyk, A. and Hedges. R.E.M. 1983. Ancient Egyptian Faience. Warminster: Aris and Phillips.
  • Kiefer, C. and Allibert, A. 2007. Pharanoic Blue Ceramics: the Process of Self-glazing. Archaeology 24, 107-117.
  • Kiefer, C. 1968. Les céramiques blues, pharanoiques et leur procédé révolutionnaire d'emaillage. Industrie Céramique. May 395-402.
  • Kühne, K. 1974 "Frühgeschichtliche Werkstoffe auf Silikatischer Basis", Das Altertum 20, 67-80
  • Nicholson, P.T.1993. Egyptian faience and glass. Aylesbury: Shire- Egyptology.
  • Nicholson, P.T. and Peltenburg, E. 2000. Egyptian faience. In: Nicholson, P.T. and Shaw, I. Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 177-194.
  • Noble, J. V. 1969. The technique of Egyptian faience. American Journal of Archaeology 73, 435-439.
  • Shortland, A.J. and Tite M.S. 2005. A technological study of Ptolemaic – early roman faience from Memphis, Egypt Archaeometry 47/1, 31–46.
  • Stone, J. F. S. and Thomas, L. C. 1956. The Use and Distribution of Faience in the Ancient East and Prehistoric Europe, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, London 22, 37–84.
  • Stocks, D.A.1997. Derivation of ancient Egyptian faience core and glaze materials. Antiquity 71/271, 179-182.
  • Petrie, W. M. F.1909. Memphis I, London: British School of Archeology in Egypt.
  • Tite, M.S. and Bimson, M. 1986. Faience: an investigation of the microstructures associated with the different methods of glazing, Archaeometry 28, 69–78.
  • Tite, M.S., Freestone I.C. and Bimson. M. 1983. Egyptian faience: an investigation of the methods of production, Archaeometry 25, 17–27.
  • Vandiver P.B. 1983. Egyptian faience technology, Appendix A. In: A. Kaczmarczyk and R.E.M. Hedges, Editors, Ancient Egyptian Faience,Warminster: Aris and Phillips, A1–A144.
  • Vandiver, P. and Kingery, W.D. 1987. Egyptian Faience: the first high-tech ceramic. In Kingery, W.D. ed., Ceramics and Civilisation 3, Columbus OH: American Ceramic Society, 19-34.
  • Verges, F.B. 1992. Bleus Egyptiennes. Paris: Louvain
  • Wulff, H. E., Wulff, H. S. and Koch, L., 1968. Egyptian faience - a possible survival in Iran. Archeology 21, 98-107.
  • Williamson, R.S.1942. The Saqqara Graph. Nature 150, 607-607.


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