Egyptian Alabaster Offering Table
Egyptian · Early Dynastic,1st-2nd Dynasty (ca. 3000-2670 B.C.)
H: 10.2 cm
Dia: 42.5 cm
The table is composed of two elements: a flat disc with a rounded and regular edge, supported by a squat, hollow, conical foot. Carved from a single block of beige alabaster, the table is beautifully veined with undulating lines that draw a very natural-looking geometric pattern on the surface of the tray. From the painted reliefs of the Old Kingdom, we know that these tables, mounted on a wooden rod that was inserted in the hollow foot, were placed in the tomb, laden with bread or fruit.
In ancient Egypt, stone objects were considered luxury goods: they appear only in royal tombs and in the graves of high-ranking individuals. The craft of carving stone vessels reached its peak during the Old Kingdom: for example, the artisans working for Pharaoh Djeser, made tens of thousands of vessels, which were placed in the storerooms of the step pyramid of Saqqara. We know of 30,000-40,000 vases, the majority of which were found broken. Although Old Kingdom wall paintings often depict the creation of these vases, very few ancient workshops have been found. The iconography of the wall paintings seems to indicate that the stone carver started by stabilizing the vase in a hole in the ground or on a worktable. Then, he sculpted and polished the exterior before hollowing out the interior with a drill, which consisted of a stick, forked at the bottom to hold an abrasive stone. To insure an even and centered hole, as well as to provide greater stability, the rotation was controlled by drilling in alternating directions: first clockwise, then counterclockwise. Polishing was finished by rubbing the surface of the vessel with a hard stone, sand or emery until it shone.
These stone vessels were principally used as containers for unguents and cosmetic oils, kept fresh by the thickness and impermeability of the jars’walls. These ointments not only had many everyday uses (for medicinal purposes), but were also of utmost importance in religious rituals (as temple offerings, for the daily anointment of statues and cult objects) and in the funerary sphere (for the preparation of mummies, since they were believed to have a rejuvenating and generative effect). Therefore, it is not surprising that a significant quantity of these stone containers are found in sanctuaries and funerary settings.
The table is undamaged, except for some small chips around its edge. Egyptian stone objects which have been so well preserved are extremely rare.
Art Market, prior to the 1990’s;
Ex- American private collection, acquired in London in the 1990’s.
On the use of offering tables, see:
EL-KHOULI A., Egyptian Stone Vessels: Predynastic to Dynasty III, 3 vol., Mainz/Rhine, 1978, pp. 692ff, pl. 123-124.
ZIEGLER C. (ed.), L’art égyptien au temps des pyramides, Paris, 1999, pp. 168-169, n. 22, pp. 207ff., n. 54-55; p. 380, n. 212.
On the technic and production of stone vessels, see:
ASTON B. G., Ancient Egyptian Stone Vessels, Materials and Form, (SAGA 5), Heidelberg, 1994.
GÜNTHER P. and al., Ägyptischer Steingefässe der Sammlung R. Schmidt, Solothurn, 1988.
STOCKS D. A., Making Stone Vessels in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, in Antiquity, A Quarterly Review of Archaeology, 67, pp. 596-603.