collage art, Christof Maupin art, amphora

Articles of interest from our sister blog

As many of our regular readers know, I started a “sister blog” a few months ago, dealing with my exploration of the intersection of art from the past and art from the present, and specifically how this impacts my own work as an artist. As so much of my work is impacted by art from the distant past, I thought it worth sharing some of my posts from the other blog site. Comments welcome:

Some Thoughts on the Persistence of Classical Imagery

A few thoughts on the art of printmaking, views of antiquity and modern prints

The art of enameling, ancient and modern

A case study in reinterpreting an old technique: English slip decorated earthenwares and modern counterparts (including my own)

Broken Things



Egyptian Faience Production and a Skullcap of Ptah on Our Website


One of the more extraordinary objects offered on our website is a Late Dynastic Egyptian blue skullcap detached from a statuette of the god Ptah. It may be viewed here:

We have described this antiquity as being made of “frit” — a term sometimes but erroneously used interchangeably for faience. But why did we choose this term? What is meant by the term “fit: and is this really the same material as faience?

We will examine here some characteristics of Egyptian faience, its production techniques and the range of materials that are broadly referred to as faience in relation to our object, which may well be a rather unusual variant.

Faience, which the Egyptians called tjehnet (meaning brilliant or shining) may have been developed as an alternative to lapis, an expensive deep blue stone whose main source was distant Afghanistan. Whatever the motivation, faience production began as early as 5000 BCE and continued through the late Roman period around 350 CE. Early faience involved simple glazing of stone objects such as beads. The primary component of faience was a readily available material, quartz. This was ground to powder and mixed with calcium oxide and natron (a type of salt commonly found in the Egyptian desert) and possibly other materials, including metallic oxides to provide coloring. Faience could be used to glaze other materials, such as soapstone, and later to create finished objects by pressing the mixture into molds. Some faience was “self-glazing” in that a hard shiny surface layer of salts would form on an object’s surface through efflorescence. Faience was fired in kilns at relatively high temperatures, up to 1000 degrees Centigrade.

Egyptian artisans combined long established skills and technologies from pottery making and metallurgy to perfect their craft. In the early New Kingdom, with the probable arrival of glass artisans from Mesopotamia, a new component was added to this skill set, and a number of variants on the basic formula emerged. These included frit, also known as Egyptian Blue, which had much in common with glass making, and so-called “glassy faience”. This is where our skullcap of Ptah comes in.

Close examination of the underside of this object –


reveals two several unusual aspects. In the deeply recessed and therefore protected interior underside, which would have rested atop the statuette’s head, a shiny glass-like surface is revealed. Shiny examples of glassy faience are known to exist. Also, in two spots there are small breaks along the object’s edge that have fractured in a manner very much resembling flint or volcanic glass. Finally, the chips mentioned above reveal the interior of the object to be identical to that of the exterior, with no thin outer layer of efflorescence or glaze differing from the interior composition. This gives it more in common with blue frit than ordinary faience.

In the end, only a chemical analysis of our object will provide a more complete answer. However we might classify this material, the object itself is highly unusual.

For some comparable examples, we suggest –

* Gifts of the Nile, Ancient Egyptian Faience, Florence Dunn Friedman, Editor, with four examples of wigs and crowns from composite statuettes, and inlays in the form of wigs, dating from the New Kingdom and 3rd Intermediate Periods, pages 82-83 (we highly recommend this excellent book).

Stern & Schlick-Nolte, Early Glass of the Ancient World, 1600 BC – AD 50, Ernesto Wolf Collection, No. 26, for a small Egyptian male head, probably 10th-7th Century BC, made of “vitreous material” remarkably similar in color and texture.

* Lacovara, Trope & D’Auria, editors, The Collector’s Eye: Masterpieces of Egyptian Art from the Thalassic Collection, Ltd., Michael C. Carlos Museum, Atlanta, 2001, #29 for a large skullcap of Ptah in bright blue faience, as an inlay, dated to the New Kingdom.

For other examples of Egyptian faience objects on our website in a variety of colors –

* A string of discoid beads in bright blue faience of the Ptolemaic or Roman period:

* An Eye of Horus amulet in green and black of the Late Dynastic period:

* Another Eye of Horus amulet in pale blue and black of the New Kingdom:

Ancient Beads in Faience, Glass, Stone & Metal

The humble bead has been a part of human decoration and self adornment for as much as 100,000 years. The earliest examples, from around the Mediterranean shores of the Near East and North Africa, were made from shell and bone. With the rise of urban civilizations and new technologies beads were developed in new materials. Utilizing examples from our own web stores we will examine several examples from Egypt, Phoenicia, the Roman Empire and beyond, spanning about 1,500 years.


The earliest beads on our website are these Egyptian faience beads, dating to the Third Intermediate Period or Late Dynastic Period, Circa 1,070-332 BCE. Egyptian faience, combining many of the qualities of both ceramic and glass but made primarily from ground quartz, had been made into beads since the 5th Millennium BC.


This beautiful string of densely packed discoid faience beads dates to the Ptolemaic or early Roman period in Egypt.


This Phoenician rod-formed glass eye bead, spherical, with a single blue and white “eye” protruding from a brick red matrix, dates to the 6th – 4th Century BCE. Included with several other ancient glass objects, this is the oldest glass bead on our website. Eye beads, thought useful in keeping away evil, have a long history from the late 2nd Millennium BC through the modern era.Image

Like most ancient Roman and later glass beads, this Roman mosaic glass bead of the 1st or 2nd Century AD was made by “rod forming”; that is, by forming the bead at the end of a metal rod, thus creating the central hole for stringing, and working the object in the flame. This object may well have been made at Alexandria in Egypt, the greatest center for glass working in the early Roman period.


This lovely group of Roman crumb beads was made by rolling a hot glass bead of very dark color over a heated stone or metal surface with small chips of red, yellow, blue and green glass scattered on it. The hot glass bead picked up the chips and the object was repeatedly heated and rolled on the surface again until the chips were basically flush with the bead.


Roman bead makers, like others before them, often made beads in the form of pendants. This group of 3 beads in a variety of shapes and colors, one of which is also a modified crumb bead, is a good example.


Not all Roman beads were glass. Beads were just as often made from humble materials, including stone (common, semi-precious or precious), shell, bone or metal. 3 of the 4 beads in the group above are made from stone. One, with simple striations for design, is of soapstone, one of lapis lazuli and another of what appears to be malachite.


This large bronze bead, part of a group of 3 Roman bronze Jewelry elements offered together on our website at is a good example of pre-Roman practices of bronze jewelry making continuing into the Roman period. This example comes from Roman Spain, where bronze jewelry elements, such as beads, were common in the Iberian and Iberian-Celtic cultures.


After the western Roman Empire had collapsed and slowly morphed into various early Medieval European states, glass making did of course continue. But it was in the east, in the Byzantine Empire, direct descendant of ancient Rome, that glass making, including beads, continued basically uninterrupted and indeed flourished. New forms evolved for new uses. The Byzantine bead illustrated here shows the continuity of form from the previous thousand years of glass bead making but is distinctly Byzantine in decoration.


Of course, glass bead making evolved again and continued to flourish in the Islamic period, from the 8th Century AD right up to the mid-20th Century in some specific places. Although the item illustrated here is a Medieval Islamic game piece, it was made by a bead maker and is really no more than a modified bead.

A few thoughts about collecting ancient beads:

  1. Avoid buying from so-called “dealers” on the major web based auction sites (you know who I mean). Deal only with reputable dealers belonging to a major antiquities trade association.
  2. Glass beads in particular are notoriously difficult to date. This is because bead making was basically a conservative trade; why change styles much when something works? Styles and even chemical compositions of raw glass remained little changed for long periods of time. In addition, some decorative styles were reinvented or emulated centuries after they had gone out of style. Some dealers are simply lazy and fail to recognize subtleties that can correctly date glass beads. Before buying, ask the dealer to provide comparative data, as we do on our website.
  3. Do your homework. There are some excellent references to be found on both faience beads and glass beads. Buy the books before you buy the beads. Here are 2 I highly recommend —
    •  Hidden Histories, Exhibition Catalogue. Marwa Helmy, University College London, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, 2008.
    • Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum, Beads and Other Small Objects. Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2001.

You may find more ancient beads for sale on our web stores at Etsy and eBay, here –

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