The Bowl is a Pool
Ancient Egyptians loved the color blue. Before 3000 BC they were importing lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and had already created faience, a non-clay ceramic that may be the earliest engineered material, by crushing quartz and adding a silica glaze tinted with blue copper.
This little faience bowl, 1.5 by 6 inches, is from an Egyptian woman’s tomb. She didn’t use it for cereal but rather offered it as a “tomb gift” to the gods to encourage rebirth. Now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, it is featured in my new favorite book “Blue: Cobalt to Cerulean in Art and Culture,” a lovely coffee table book of blue art ancient and modern. I plan to spend the next few weeks of these Wednesday “Blue Theology” postings celebrating the color blue.
From the Museum’s writeup about this bowl: “The marsh scene painted on the interior surface of this shallow bowl is perfectly adapted to its shape. The bowl is a pool: six curving stems with lotus buds radiate pinwheel-like from a central square, with four tilapia passing over and partly overlapping them to create a sense of depth. Three of the fish have other lotus stems issuing forth from their mouths; these also terminate in buds that float up to the vessel’s rim to join the others.
“In ancient Egyptian art no motif is too modest to be innocent of ritual symbolism. And so it is with this shallow bowl, for in Egyptian mythology, the marsh was the seething hotbed of creation. The blue lotus, whose flowers open from sunrise through midday and close at night, was closely associated with the sun’s rebirth each morning.
“The tilapia was a symbol of fertility and rebirth since Predynastic times, based no doubt on the creature’s remarkable habit of taking its newly hatched young into its mouth for shelter. The young fish appear to emerge from the parent’s mouth as though newly born, a phenomenon the Egyptians interpreted as spontaneous generation.
“This recalled the god Atum, whose own act of spontaneous generation initiated the creation of the Egyptian universe. The waters in which the fish swim are those of the boundless, life-giving Nun, the primeval ocean, while the central square motif is the primeval mound that rose above these waters.”
I post these “Blue Theology Tide-ings” every Wednesday here and on Facebook. Come visit us in Pacific Grove at the Blue Theology Mission Station for a blue service trip or pilgrimage by the blue bay. Bluetheology.com