Egyptian Faience Bowl with Fish
Period: New Kingdom, Dynasty 18 (16th-14th century B.C.)
Dimensions: D: 10.4 cm
Ex-Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) collection, England, early 20th century.
This faience plate highlighted with brown-black pigments is an example of a well-attested type in the New Kingdom. The interior of the vessel is decorated with two Nile tilapia (fish similar to perch, belonging to the family Cichlidae) holding lotus blossoms in their mouths.
From an anatomical point of view, the fish are correctly depicted, with clearly delineated fins and scales. The blue color of the faience was likely meant to represent the waters of the Nile, and was supposed to imitate turquoise or lapis lazuli, both materials that carried a strong association with the goddess Hathor, who counted among her many epithets that of Lady of Turquoise. Hathor was closely linked to Horus, who was charged with maintaining order in the universe. She was also known as the Mistress of the West, a title that referred to her protective role of the region of the necropolises located along the west bank of the Nile. The choice of the tilapia nilotica is no coincidence.
This fish, often depicted on reliefs, adorned vessels as seen here and was also portrayed as a three-dimensional figurine. Nile tilapia are known to carry their eggs in their mouth; when the young hatch, they emerge from the mouth of the parent fish. This, to the Egyptian mind, was a potent sign of rebirth and regeneration. Tilapia nilotica are not the only symbolic elements on this bowl. They, the lotus blooms, which opened and closed with the rising and setting sun, and the blue color of the faience all combine to produce a powerful message of fertility and rebirth that would have made this object a valuable grave good.
BERMAN L.M. (ed.), Catalogue of Egyptian Art, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Manchester, VA, 1999, p. 278, no. 200.
Egypt’s Golden Age : the Art of Living in the New Kingdom, 1558-1085 B.C., Boston, 1982, pp. 140 ss., n. 140.
BUNSON M., The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, New York, 1991, p. 107.
On the tilapia nilotica in Egyptian:
FAZZINI R.A. et al., Art for Eternity: Masterworks from Ancient Egypt, New York, 1999, p. 102.