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HOME : Egyptian Antiquities : Masterpieces of Egyptian Art : 26th Dynasty Faience Amulet of Isis and Horus
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26th Dynasty Faience Amulet of Isis and Horus - X.0348
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 664 BC to 525 BC
Dimensions: 4" (10.2cm) high
Collection: Egyptian
Medium: Faience


Location: Great Britain
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Description
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.

Isis, the bride of Osiris, the mother of Horus, the healer, was the protector of women, the winged goddess able to grant immortality. The word, “Isis,” is actually the Greek version of her older Egyptian name, Aset or Eset, revealing that she remained a popular deity during the Ptolemaic period, associated with Demeter. The legend of Osiris states that his brother Seth, overcome by jealousy, murdered him and tore his body into fourteen parts, scattering them across Egypt. Isis traversed the land and gathered all the parts of his body. She then cast a spell that resurrected her deceased husband for one night, during which their child, Horus, was conceived. Thus, Isis was one of the central figures of Egyptian religion, the healer, the giver of life. Horus, one of the most important deities in the Egyptian pantheon, is often depicted in the form of a hawk, more specifically a falcon. Conceived after his father’s resurrection, Horus would grow to avenge his father’s death, and as such, he became a symbol of victory and the kingship, the deification of the earthly Pharaoh.

This magnificent faience amulet depicts the goddess Isis nursing the infant Horus, who sits upon her lap. She holds her right hand cupped against her left breast, aiding her suckling child. She wears the hieroglyph for her name (meaning “seat” or “throne”) upon her head, although the majority of this headdress has broken away in antiquity. Such amulets are known from as early as the Ramesside Period, although they become much more popular during the Third Intermediate Period and after. Amulets of this type would have served as a powerful fertility talisman, and thus, would have likely only been worn by women. However, considering the substantial size of this piece, it is unlikely that is was ever worn. Instead, it could have served as a votive offering, or may have been interred alongside the deceased in order to ensure fecundity in the afterlife.
- (X.0348)

 

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