This delicate royal vessel was made by the ancient Egyptians during the Old Kingdom, from approximately ca. 2289-2255 B.C. It bears the name of Pepi I and mentions his first heb-sed, which took place approximately thirty years into his reign. During this time period, such jars were commonly given as royal gifts, underscoring the king’s preeminence and also distinguishing the person to whom they were presented. Gifts like these were preserved and taken with the utmost care since they were extremely valuable and precious.
Although this exquisite vessel was made to hold rare and expensive perfumed oil or unguents, it was valued more for its inscriptions than for the ointment it held. The inscriptions on this particular vase refers to the first heb-sed (a royal renewal festival typically celebrated at thirty years of reign) of Pepi I. Furthermore, the name of a queen (Meryre, perhaps short for Ankhnesmeryre, the name of two known wives) was also carved directly beneath.
The direct translation of the inscriptions, posted on the Met website, reads ” May Horus Meritawi King of Upper and Lower Egypt, son of Re, Pepi, He-of-the-two-ladies, Merikhet, son of Re, Pepi, Double Horus of Gold, son of Re, Pepi, given life and gifts. First occasion of the Sed-festival, may he live like Re.” Another inscription was added in a different style of carving that reads: ” The king’s wife, his beloved, Meryre.” Inscriptions like these prove to hold important value, because they record important historical events, provide insights into the advancements and lives of the Egyptians from this time period, and also acts as solid and valid proof for archaeologists.
With a wide rim and flat foot, the vessel has a disk shaped lid with a circular protuberance on the inside. Such receptacles were common for jars made from the Fifth to the Eleventh Dynasty. In addition, many similar jars bear resembling inscriptions that mention the royal celebrations that occurred during the reign of Pepi the first.
The materials used and remarkable skills displayed in this 37.2 cm vessel proves that it is a truly valuable artwork. The thick walls of this stone vessel was carefully sculpted with materials such as gypsum, travertine, alabaster, and limestone to help the valuable cosmetic oils and ointments they frequently held cool and to its longest shelf life. The exquisite workmanship and high quality underlined shows the precious nature of its contents. In addition, the designs on this vessel shows that the Egyptians were highly advanced and artistic. They were able to carefully design and make not only great structures but everyday items to the utmost precision and care. Everything was sculpted, planned, and created the way it was for a specific reason, whether it’s for artistic or functional purposes. For example, the materials taken into consideration and used was picked specifically for the purpose of keeping ointments cool. On the other hand, the combination of the materials also gave the vessel a clean, smooth, and elegant look, which was supported and enhanced by the Egyptians’ highly artistic skills. In addition, vessels, jars, and other potteries was decorated with depictions of animals, humans, boats and various other patterns and symbols. These high quality vessels represents the Egyptians’ unique art style and talents; It can be seen from the sturdy structure and unique designs that the Egyptians paid close attention and great efforts to create simple objects such as vessels. It also shows that they have great dedication and work ethic. The ancient Egyptians were gifted artisans and pottery was an art where they excelled.
Although expensive jars and vessels made for the nobility are priceless and extremely valuable, vessels are also extremely important to the common people. Infact, potteries such as vessels and jars play such a big role in people’s life that overtime it has just been engraved into their lifestyle. While vessels that were beautifully designed was often created to please pharaohs and other nobilities, the common people used them for daily purposes such as holding water and keeping foods cool. In addition, the poor and working class often could not afford the expensive burials, so they used vessels as burial coffins. The afterlife was very important to the Egyptians, many wanted to be carefully mummified so that they can go to the afterlife smoothly. However, many were not able to afford the luxury of mummification and resorted to using common pottery such as vessels. Although it was not an glamorous idea, people believed that by carefully sealing their organs in these vessels, they would be able to be to go the afterlife without any disturbance. Jars might seem like a simple invention, but its existence has shown to serve many purposes.
The Egyptians first began making vessels using the clay they found around the Nile. They took coiled strands of clay and wound it around in circles to make the walls of the clay pot and then smoothed out the walls. Then they would allow the scorching sun to bake and seal the vessels. Later discoveries have shown that they had a pottery wheel, which was slow turning, and gave them the ability to use their hands to make a variety of different shapes and sizes. Egyptians loved color and they would often dip the finished pottery into vats of color dye. When it was dry, they would use combs or spatulas to scratch designs, symbols and patterns into the clay. Later on, the Egyptians found out that without any kind of glaze, their pottery was porous and allowed liquids to seep out, as well as not being able to seal food well. As a result, they developed a number of glaze methods and began using ‘firing’ techniques in high temperature ovens to perfect their vessels.
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