A Predynastic Egypt alabaster plate with beautiful regular veins in the stone
Period: Egyptian, I-II Dynasty, about 3000-2750 B.C
Dimensions: H: 6 cm. - D: 32.5 cm.
Private collection, acquired on the Swiss Art Market in 1998.
This large, shallow plate, with its concave profi le, is in an excellent state of preservation. The surface of the alabaster was carefully polished, and the natural pattern of the horizontal veins of the stone can still be seen.
The shape is extremely simple and linear: its body is slightly concave with a fl at upturned lip. On the interior, the flat base is outlined by an incised circle, which resembles a medallion. The artisan skilfully manipulated the stone’s striking veining, creating the vessel’s decoration from the natural beauty of the translucent alabaster: the design resembles the sea agitated by waves or the last rays of the setting sun.
Vessels such as these, which vary in height and concavity and look to the modern eye like large bowls, were used as plates. These plates could be placed on a cylindrical stand to serve as an offering table; images of such vessels used in this way are found in the funerary frescos of this period. Chronologically, they appear at the beginning of the 3rd millennium B.C., and are most frequent at the end of the 2nd Dynasty.
In ancient Egypt, stone vessels were considered the premier luxury goods. They are only found in royal tombs and among the accoutrement of the highest ranking members of society. The quality of stone work improved throughout the Predynastic and Thinite periods, as is clear from this superb example of a plate, which is notable both for its quality of workmanship and its large dimensions.
On this type:
EL-KHOULI A, Egyptian Stone Vessels: Predynastic to Dynasty III, 3 vol. Mayence/Rhine, 1978, p. 787, pl. 127.
GRIMM A – SCHOSKE S., Am Beginn der Zeit, Ägypten in der Vor- und Frühzeit, Munich, 2000, p. 66, n. 138.
NEEDLER W., Predynastic and Archaic Egypt in the Brooklyn Museum, New York, 1994, p. 250, n. 137.
On stone vessels:
ASTON B.G., Ancient Egyptian Stone Vessels, Materials and Form, (SAGA 5), Heidelberg, 1994.
STOCKS D.A., Making Stone Vessels in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, in Antiquity, A Quarterly Review of Archaeology, 67, pp. 596-603.