Dated to circa 1100 BC, this ancient Egyptian lotus-shaped cup remains a stunning example of a drinking vessel three thousand years later. It only stands 3 1/8 inches tall, but its brilliant blue glaze catches the eye and draws one in to take a closer look. Only then does the decorative black outline of a lotus flower become apparent around the cup, along with a single wavy line near the base to represent the shallow water from which the flower grows.
The cup gets its distinctive turquoise color from the addition of copper to the medium, a ground quartz-based material, called faience. This type of faience was widely popular in both ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and is considered a precursor to glass and clay. To make it, craftsmen ground quartz or sand and then mixed the particles with soda, lime, and other compounds. Copper was also added before the mixture was sculpted and left to dry in the sun. Afterwards, the sculpted pieces were placed in a specially designed kiln and baked. The copper reacted to the extreme heat of the kiln, resulting in a brilliant blue color when it finished baking hours later.
In the case of this particular drinking vessel, the striking turquoise color is not only decorative, it also reflects the lotus motif around the cup. The Egyptian lotus flower, which has many sharply pointed blue petals surrounding a yellow center, was a powerful symbol in ancient Egyptian culture. It was seen to represent life, death, and rebirth because every morning the flower blooms, opening up its blue petals as if being born; each evening the flower closes its petals, symbolizing death. The next morning, the process starts all over again, reflecting the idea of rebirth, renewal, and ultimately, immortality. With this in mind, it is no wonder that this motif is often found in tombs of ancient Egyptian pharaohs hoping to be reborn into the immortal afterlife.
For being so small, the lotus-shaped cup wields a great deal a power with both its appearance and symbolism. It is a wonderful example of how both form and function can blend together seamlessly.
Paul Nicholson. Faience technology. UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1). nelc_uee_7930. (2009) Retrieved from: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/9cs9x41z
C. Ossian. The most beautiful flowers: Water lilies & lotuses in ancient Egypt. KMA: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt, 10 (1). (1999) Retrieved from http://www.kmtjournal.com/