Sunday, September 23, 2012

Faience and Jewelry

Kuchi pendant with faience 'jewel'

If you've ever been to see exhibits of ancient Egyptian artifacts, you've probably seen examples of faience, the lovely blue to blue-green ceramics and items of jewelry. Faience was a technology discovered and refined beginning in the early Egyptian dynastic periods. (Egyptian faience should not be confused with the earthenware of the Faenze region of Italy, now more commonly known as ‘majolica’). It was probably developed to resemble the precious stone colors of turquoise and lapis lazuli. Faience was known as “tejhnet” which meant brilliant or dazzling. Faience objects were fairly common in ancient Egypt until the late Arab period in the 14th century.

As general definition, faience, or Egyptian paste, is a glassy substance manufactured by grinding quartz or sand crystals together with various amounts of sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and copper oxide. The resulting substance was formed into whatever shape was desired, usually beads, amulets or other small items such as scarabs or game pieces, and then heated. During heating, the pieces would harden and develop a bright color with a glassy surface. These same substances have also been found to have been used as a glaze over other, more standard mixtures of ceramics.

As with most other early Egyptian arts, the technology and production of faience went through periods of refinement and decline during the dynastic periods of ancient Egypt. Archaeologists have found the remains of workshops where faience artists produced beautiful objects for everyday and ritual use. Faience beads and Shabti dolls have been found in many royal dynastic tombs.

Faience hippo god statuette

Faience remained popular through the Middle Ages, but the appearance of cheap porcelain around the latter part of the 18th century began to lessen the demand. By the middle of 19th century, stoneware had also taken over the market for faience, leaving the art form more or less a thing of the past.

Some faience is still made today by ceramic makers, jewelers and to make small items for the tourist trade. A modern example is shown in the first photo above, a Kuchi pendant from Pakistan. You can sometimes find similar items for sale at The Red Camel.

Faience is one of those very old technologies that seem to have a place out of time. Intriguinginly, it may play a part in the pioneering field of 3D printing of ceramics.

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