26th Dynasty Faience Amulet of a Recumbent Lion

SKU X.0325
Circa

664 BC to 525 BC

Medium

Faience

Origin

Egypt

Gallery Location

UK


 

The 26th Dynasty, also known as the Saite Period, is traditionally placed by scholars at the end of the Third Intermediate Period or at the beginning of the Late Dynastic Period. In either case, the Saite Period rose from the ashes of a decentralized Egyptian state that had been ravaged by foreign occupation. Supported by the assistance of a powerful family centered in the Delta town of Sais, the Assyrians finally drove the Nubians out of Egypt. At the close of this campaign, Ashurbanipal’s kingdom was at the height of its power; however, due to civil strife back east, he was forced to withdraw his forces from Egypt. Psamtik I, a member of the family from Sais, seized this opportunity to assert his authority over the entire Nile Valley and found his own dynasty, the 26th of Egyptian history. Known as the Saite Period due to the importance of the capital city Sais, the 26th Dynasty, like many before it, sought to emulate the artistic styles of past pharaohs in order to bolster their own claims to power and legitimize their authority.

The first examples of amulets appeared in Ancient Egypt as early as 4000 B.C. Believed to possess magical powers that protected the wearer or bestowed upon the properties they symbolized, amulets were worn both by the living as well as the dead. Throughout their evolution, talismans were crafted from a variety of materials including precious metals such as gold and silver, semiprecious stone like jasper and carnelian, as well as other more affordable glazed compositions such as faience. The particular powers of an individual amulet were based upon its specific shape, although the material and even the color of the charm could affect its magical abilities. While many of the amulets created to be worn by the living could also be worn after death, there also existed a specific group of charms that were made specifically to be placed upon the mummified remains of the deceased. All together, amulets represent an important class of Ancient Egyptian art that furthers our understanding of their complex religious beliefs.

Faience, which dates back to predynastic times, at least 5,000 years, is a glasslike non-clay substance made of materials common to Egypt: ground quartz, crushed quartz pebbles, flint, a soluble salt-like baking soda, lime and ground copper, which provided the characteristic color. The dried objects went into kilns looking pale and colorless but emerged a sparkling “Egyptian blue.” Called tjehnet by the Ancient Egyptians, meaning that which is brilliant or scintillating, faience was thought to be filled with the undying light of the sun, moon and stars and was symbolic of rebirth. Ancient Egyptians believed the small blue-green objects helped prepare them for eternity in the afterlife.

Lion amulet are known to date as early as the Old Kingdom. Lions, who inhabited the deserts of Ancient Egypt, were believed to possess regenerative capabilities, thus there frequent occurrence in funerary art. Lion amulets forged from gold were often given to victorious generals to reward their courage and valor on the battlefield. Although they were produced until the end of the dynastic era, there are only two main types of lion amulets. While both varieties feature the animal lying down with the tail curled around the back right leg and a clearly defined mane, they can be easily differentiated. One type depicts the animal without a base and a suspension loop attached to the top of the back. The other variety, of which this example belongs, portrays the lions resting upon a low base with a square front and curved back. These amulets were suspended by a longitudinal boring as opposed to a loop. This magnificent amulet of a couchant lion still possesses the magical powers that Ancient Egyptians utilized in hopes of altering the course of their lives for the better.

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