Crafts and Industries through the Ages
temporary exhibition pottery

Pottery

story of pottery in Egypt 

The pottery is one of the oldest crafts known in Egypt since the early beginnings of the settlement of the Ancient Egyptians on the Nile Valley during the Neolithic period .

Our knowledge about Egyptian pottery is derived from various sources, either ancient or modern. Scattered tombs and temples representations , workshop models, stelae, ostraca and some texts have provided valuable contemporary testimony on ancient Egyptian ceramic production , technology and function .

With the invention of the potter’s wheel, the craft of pottery production experienced innovations in shapes, fabrics and decorations since the ancient Egyptian times until today .

Pottery making and usages are the best example of the continuity of the cultural elements throughout the Egyptian civilization which represent the total accumulation of popular beliefs.

 Source (different materials used in pottery fabrication)

Pharaonic contribution:

The basic raw material of pottery production is clay.The Egyptian potters favored two major clay types: the Nile alluvial clay and the marl clay. The first type was

deposited on the river’s floodplain, covering most of the Delta region and Upper Egypt. This type would turn into grey or black color when fired. The second type, marl clay –  called also tafla –  was formed among the calcareous shale, mudstone and limestone along the

river valley (between Esna in the South and Cairo in the North, especially Qena). This type would turn into white or creamy in color when burnt, and would turn into dark

green when burnt at a high temperature. A third type, the Egyptian Kaolin clay, found in Aswan, Kharga and Dakhla Oasis, was rarely used

Greco-Roman contribution:

Terracotta figurines and oil lamps with orange color, found in Alexandria, might have been a result of mixing types of clay, or a result of firing clay at a certain temperature.

Coptic contribution:

Same kinds of clay as in the previous periods.  Islamic contribution: Same kinds of clay as in the previous periods. 

Modern contribution:

Same kinds of clay as in the previous periods. 

Tradition:

Same kinds of clay as in the previous periods. El-Sharqia and Dakhla Oasis are famous for having black clay. Another kind of clay from el-Fustat and Dakhla Oasis produce white pots when exposed to fir

 Tools

Pharaonic contribution:

Shaping of pottery was accomplished by handbuilding, molding and rotation (simple potter’s wheel).

The first signs of forceful rotation are found on rim sand shoulders on pottery of the Naqada II period. The first known depiction of such a device was in the 5thdynasty tomb of Ty at Saqqara. This method was developed over time, becoming more forceful, until the invention of the kick wheel, which was attested for the first time in the 27

The Dynasty.

Greco-Roman contribution:

Same as previous period.  

Coptic contribution:

Same as previous periods. 

Islamic contribution:

Same as previous periods. 

Modern contribution:

Same as previous periods, in addition to use of electric power

Tradition:

There are some simple tools used by potter such as:

- The sift to clean the clay.

- Al-Mangal to cut the mud.

- Al-Qaleb (a heavy tool to help in the pit pottery).

- Al-Dolab (Potter’s wheel): it consists of an iron circular piece at the top (about 30 cm Diam.) which is attached to a support made of steel (150 cm Length

and 3 cm. Diam.). This support fixed with a wooden circular piece to rotate faster by leg.

- A scraper: it cleans the piece of work from the excess clay.

- Nylon thread: to cut and separate the manufactured piece and move it to be dried.

- Oven to burn the clay

 Techniques

Pharaonic contribution:

The raw clay must be prepared by moving impurities.

This was generally done by drying, crushing and sieving. The clay was then placed in a pit and water was added to it. The clay-water mixture is stirred and kneaded until it became elastic, straw or powder of dry papery may be added. The clay body was then ready

either to be used immediately or to be stored. The prepared clay was ready to be shaped by one or more of three forming techniques: hand-building, molding or rotation (potter’s wheel). After shaping, the pot was dried to a leather-hard stage. It was then modified by different techniques such as scraping, smoothing, polishing, burnishing, incising, impressing and/or curving. Another method was coating. It was often applied to the entire or to parts of

the pot before the burning of the pot at the leather-hard stage. Lastly painted decorative motifs were applied either before or after burning.Firing was the most critical stage of pottery production. It was done by either one of the following methods:

–  Open oven: fuel and vessels were intermixed without pits or walls;

–  firing structures, incorporating pits or walls or both, but with no separation between fuel and vessels;

–  updraft kilns, structures where a fire was usually placed directly below the vessels and

separated from them by a perforated floor. The difference of clay and firing degrees gives different shapes of pottery

Greco-Roman contribution:

Craftsmen had decorated their vessels with scenes of the daily life, Greek deities, and heroes. They were the first to experiment with adding color by combining the clay with other naturally occurring ingredients, such as ochre and potash. The ancient Greek vases were highly valued for form and decoration. Roman up-draught kilns are larger than those of earlier periods. They are circular in shape and with thick walls forming a cylindrical shape, with the fire located in small chamber cut into the ground

Coptic contribution:

The techniques of Coptic pottery and ceramics production were in the tradition of Hellenistic and Roman periods.

In spite of the rare reference to kilns in the Coptic Byzantine period, it cannot be doubted that Egypt possessed a considerable number.  The kilns at Medamud are same as the third type of kilns in Pharaonic times.Decoration had a considerable place in Coptic ceramics.

It appeared in simplified form even on articles intended for everyday use. Impressed decoration was generally associated with wares made of relatively fine clays; painting and motives was found on wares of coarser clay at the end of the seventh century CE.  Glazing

appeared as a development that was highlighted at Kom al-Dikka –  Alexandria. Glaze in the form of finely powdered glass was applied to earthenware and then fired to produce a vitreous coating that would be impervious to liquid. Glaze was used with both impressed and painted decoration.

Islamic contribution:

In the Islamic era, pottery industry witnessed a remarkable development.

The manufacturing techniques were as in previous periods.

Different techniques of decoration were used for:

I- Earth-ware pottery

–  Unglazed earth-ware pottery (applied, incised, barbotine, zigzag and rivets-head).

–  Glazed earth-ware which usually made of red pottery (glazing, either by transparent glaze or by colored glaze).

–  Under glazed pottery.

II. Ceramic

–  Under-glaze ceramic.

–  Luster ware.

–  Under-glaze incised ceramic.

–  Under-glaze painted ceramic.

Kilns of Islamic era were like those of third type of kilns of the Pharaonic times (updraft kilns) but with a circular in plan. During the Fatimid period, the pottery was decorated with images of animals, birds and leaves.

The ceramics were blue glazed with luster colors varying from silver through brassy yellow to dull broken blue and white pottery was common during the fifteenth century.

 Modern contribution:

From at least the 18th century onwards, elite Islamic art

was increasingly influenced by European style.

Tradition:

There are three traditional techniques for pottery making:

1- Pit pottery (digging a pit in the ground):

•  Clearing clay from impurities by the sift.

•  Mixing the clay with water.

•   Forming a pit in the ground having the same shape of the pot that the potter wants to make, then he sprays some sand to prevent the wet clay from sticking to the pit.

2-  Kick wheel pottery: the craftsman instead of continually turning the pot by his hands he is assisted by a wheel which he kicks by his feet to increase the turning speed.

3- The electric power wheel replaces the kick wheel in turning the piece of pottery.

 Production Centers

Pharaonic contribution:

Potters were craftsmen who were responsible for manufacturing pottery as seen in the tombs scenes, texts and models. Some potters doubtless worked alone, but most of them were organized into individual workshops belonging to palaces and temples.

Private public estates had their own potters and workshops. Small villages probably had one or more potters while cities would have potters and workshops.

The most famous production centers of pottery were discovered at Fayum, Badary, Naqada, Buto, Bahariya Oasis and Elephantine

Greco-Roman contribution:

A large number of Roman kilns were discovered in Dakhla Oasis, al-Ashmunein and Tell el-Haraby at elAlamen. Lately about 30 workshops of pottery were discovered at Maryut.

Coptic contribution:

Literature mentions to kilns at Maryut, Abu Mina, alAshmunein, where the archaeological remains are attested by the evidence of a papyrus (517 AD)mentioning  a potter's workshop in the HermopoliteNome in  Middle Egypt.  Morever, kilns were discovered at Medamud, Tod, nubian X Group (= Ballana culture), Edfu and El-Ballas.

Islamic contribution:

One of the most famous ancient Islamic cities for the production of pottery is Fustat, the first capital of Islamic Egypt.During the Mamluk period, Cairo became an important center for the types of folk pottery production characterized by simplicity and low cost. Some of pots have marked with name of its producer like “Ghazal”, “Al-Shami”, “Ibn al-Khabbaz” and “Ghaibi

Modern contribution:

Porcelain became popular at the end of 19 th century. Jonson pasha built a factory for ceramic tiles at Fom el-Khalig which didn’t operate for a long time. Meanwhile, an Alexandrian merchant, who used to import porcelain from Greece, built another factory

and employed Greek and French workers as well as Egyptians.    A section for applied arts was created after Egyptians went to Europe on various scholarships during the time of Mohamed Aly.Mahmoud Saber was the first Egyptian to study in the Sevre factory in France. He established a new section for pottery in the school of decorative art in Boulaq.

Tradition:

Most important production centers were in: Garagous village (Qena), el-Fustat, and al-Qasr village in Dakhla Oasis.

 Usage

Pharaonic contribution:

Pottery was an essential element in Egyptian society. It was used in all aspects of life at all social levels: domestic and agricultural tasks, public ceremonies, religious and funerary rituals.

Most ancient burials included quantities of pottery left for use in the afterlife. During various periods of Egyptian history, adults or infants were buried in large pots or ceramic basin. Pottery was also used for burials in form of anthropoid coffins.  Broken pottery is recycled and its shards were used either as ostraca, which was a very important material for writing, or as a temper by potters.

Greco-Roman contribution:

During that time some vessels changed in shapes and purpose, like, for example, hydriai which were big in sizeand were first used as water containers, and then used to preserve ashes of the deceased.During the Roman period, this type of vessel disappeared.

Amphorae were another kind of vessels which were used to preserve wine and oil. Local workshops in Alexandria and Delta produced different types of pottery vessels, some of

them imitating the imported types

Coptic contribution:

The ceramics of Copto-Byzantine Egypt offer a varied range of shapes and manufacturing groups adapted to very specific functions. The sites – such as hermitages at Esna and Kellia and urban foundations at Alexandria and Elephantine – have yielded a rich collection of material which gives evidence of daily use of "fine” tableware, cooking pots, amphorae and water jugs.

In the hermitages, ceramic material was frequently used as a component part in building. Plates and dishes were generally intended for a collection of "fine" ceramic of the fourth to fifth centuries, localized in the oases of Khargah and Dakhlah in the Western Desert, consists basically of bowls.

Islamic contribution:

In addition to the usual shapes of pots which were used in daily life for storing food and liquids or lighting, different shapes appeared for different uses such as new type of pot called Qollah as well as round decorated molds for cakes on holidays and feasts and pipes for smoking.

Modern contribution:

The royal family of Mohamed Aly was interested in using the famous types of porcelain which were produced in special centers in England, France, and Austria. These special porcelains were used not only for their daily life but also as pieces of fine art. They had special groups painted with floral and geometrical motifs and the golden royal crown with their initials.

Tradition:

Large containers of pottery are used to supply drinking water to thirsty passerby which is considered as an act of thanking God (Thawab).On seventh day after the birth of the child, Egyptians have a tradition of having a ceremony for the newly born. The

drinking decorated pottery jar plays an important role in the ceremony. The pottery jar called Qollah is used to symbolize that the newly born is a girl and the decorated pottery ewer called ‘Abreeg’ symbolizes that the infant is boy

 Masterpieces

Pharaonic contribution:

The potter’s wheel is arguably the most significant machine introduced into Egypt. In Predynastic Egypt (3500 BC), the traditional methods of hand-building pottery vessels were already successful in producing vessels of high quality on a large scale for the domestic market, so it would seem that the potter’s wheel was a rather superfluous invention.

However, the impact of this innovation would not just have affected the Egyptian potters themselves learning a new skill, but also signaled the beginnings of a more complex and technologically advanced society.

God Khnum was thought to be the creator of human being, which he made from clay on a potter's wheel. He was also described as having moulded the other deities.

Among his titles are: “Divine Potter” and “Lord of created things from himself”.

Greco-Roman contribution:

Terracotta figurines with different shapes and the Hydriai were used during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. However, the Hydriai which was used to preserve ashes of the deceased disappeared in Roman period.

Coptic contribution:

All types of decorations on pottery at that time had special symbolism in Christianity, such as the fish or grapes that stands for Christ, dove as the holy spirit, and the lion symbolizes St. Mark.

Islamic contribution:

Glazed and luster earth- were pottery and ceramic.

Modern contribution:

Special imported group of pots painted with floral and geometrical designs and the golden royal crown andinitials.

Tradition:

The pit pottery is the oldest type of pottery. It is totally formed simply by hand, but it can be considered as a distinguished production and a good example for the deep rooted tradition.

Islamic Sabil is constructed specially to provide thirsty passersby with drinking water. It is an important contribution of the Islamic Period. It shows the Islamic tradition of supplying the thirsty passersby with drinking water. This tradition is still very strong among the Egyptians.  The Islamic Sabil is no more fulfilling its original function but the intangible deep rooted belief in providing the thirsty passerby with drinking cool water resulted in an innovative and creative practice. It became popular among Egyptians to place a large pottery water container (Zeer) next to their house or place of work for passersby



temporary exhibition pottery

temporary exhibition pottery

temporary exhibition pottery

temporary exhibition pottery

temporary exhibition pottery

temporary exhibition pottery

temporary exhibition pottery

temporary exhibition pottery

temporary exhibition pottery

temporary exhibition pottery

temporary exhibition pottery temporary exhibition pottery temporary exhibition pottery temporary exhibition pottery temporary exhibition pottery