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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.
ca. 1539-1070 BC, 33.578, Brooklyn Museum. Inlaid faience tile with rebus, "All the people of the world adoring". Probably from a palace of Ramesses II or III. Height: 11.5 cm.
Shawabti Basket, ca. 1400-1390 BC, 59.33, Brooklyn Museum. Basket of deep blue faience for a shabti, inscribed with the name of the "Great Royal Wife Ti'a", Queen of Amenhotep II.
Senet gameboard, with counters and sliding drawer to contain them, ca. 1390-1353 BC, Brooklyn Museum. Blue faience with ornament and markings in black. Inscribed with Horus name of King Amenhotep III.
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- 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.
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