Object type: Faience bowl
Date: c. 1550-1292 BC.
Period: Dynasty 18, New Kingdom
Findspot: Chamber 949, Tomb Group 941-949 A’09, Abydos
Dimensions: 150 mm x 45 mm
Current location: Ancient Egypt Gallery, World Museum Liverpool
Inventory number: 1977.109.1
Reproduction of a blue faience bowl with a marsh scene with water, fish and plant motifs that symbolise the themes of fertility, rebirth, and regeneration. It was found with a large group of vessels in a tomb in Abydos dating to Dynasty 18, c. 1550-1292 BC.
Faience was made from moulded silica which was glazed with copper colourants and fired to create vessels and amulets. During the early to mid-Dynasty 18, faience ‘Marsh Bowls’ became fashionable, featuring painted decoration of aquatic scenes of fish, animals and plant life seen along the Nile. These motifs symbolise the themes of fertility, rebirth, and regeneration common to ancient Egyptian art.
On this bowl, the painted design features open blue lotus flowers (Nymphaea caerulea), lotus buds and papyrus flowers, whilst the underside is decorated as a flower with petals. The lotus flower was used in art to represent the idea of regeneration as lotus flowers can be observed opening in the morning and closing at night, which the ancient Egyptians associated with the sun god's rebirth every morning.
The sides of the bowl carry a swirling, water-like pattern representing the Nile and swimming between the stems of the marsh plants are four tilapia fish with lotus buds in their mouths. Tilapia (Tilapia nilotica) were used since Predynastic times to symbolise the concepts of rebirth and regeneration, possibly because of the unusual behaviours the fish had.
Tilapia fish protect their newly hatched young by taking them into their mouths for shelter whilst they grow, so that the young fish appear to emerge from the parent's mouth as though newly born. This spontaneous creation was linked with the god Atum, whose own act of spontaneous generation initiated the creation of the Egyptian universe.
There are numerous examples of faience marsh bowls with similar decorations in museums across the world.