Egyptian Faience Feline-Headed Cup
Culture: Egyptian, Near-Eastern, Ne-Syrian
Period: Middle Bronze Age (17th-16th century B.C.)
Dimensions: H: 6 cm
Price: CHF 49'200
Acquired by M. Sleiman Aboutaam in Beirut in the early 1980’s.
Except for minor cracks in the faience and the slightly erased glaze, the cup is in perfect condition.
This cup is not difficult to date, since it belongs, like (8), (9), (10) and (11), to the faience vessels of the Near Eastern Middle Bronze Age, as evidenced by the style but mainly by the manufacturing technique.
This very simply shaped vessel is almost cylindrical and terminates in a wide mouth with an angular rim; the lower end is closed and flat, providing good balance for the cup. The rim and the interior are painted in black. The feline head (the lines indicating the mane probably characterize the animal as a lion) modeled in low relief on one side constitutes the special feature of the vessel and probably makes it unique. The shapes and details of the muzzle are rendered in a somewhat exaggerated, almost caricatural manner, which produced a somewhat naïve style: large strokes of black paint for the mane, area around the eyes, and whiskers; incisions for the eyes and closed mouth; modeling for the nose and ears. The mouth, nostrils, and jowls are under the base. It is noteworthy that although this animal can probably be identified as a lion, the modeled head seen from below resembles a male face with grotesque features.
Unlike other pieces in the same series (8, 9, 10 and 11), this vessel had no lid: more than a perfume vase, it was therefore a cup meant to contain a small quantity of a precious drink or liquid. The use of a noble material such as faience and the presence of the feline make this a luxury item, used perhaps in a religious or funerary context (the lion is related, among others, to Ishtar, goddess of war and love). Among rare parallels, this feline-headed cup can be associated with another cup, also devoid of handles and similar in size, found at Ebla (modern-day Syria) and dated to the same period. It is modeled in the form of a female face and probably represents a deity, perhaps Hathor or Ishtar.
Levantine faience vessels:
CAUBET A. (ed.), Faïences de l’Antiquité. De l’Egypte à l’Iran (Paris, 2005), pp. 43, nos. 81-82; pp. 61-62.
CAUBET A. (ed.), Faïences et matières vitreuses de l’Orient Ancien dans les collections du Musée du Louvre (Paris, 2007), pp. 205-209, nos. 201-202.
Cup with a female face from Ebla:
MATTHIAE P. et al., Ebla, Alle origini della civiltà urbana (Milano, 1995), pp. 457, 475, no. 370.