|Credit: Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps|
E 8025 bis
This delicate decorated spoon is quite remarkable both for its size and for excellent condition, with well-preserved inlays of blue pigment. The figure is carved from a strip of wood, while the interior details are in bas-relief. The decoration depicts a servant girl carrying a large earthenware jar, which is actually a receptacle fitted with its own cover, so creating a perfect correspondence between the object and its subject.
A heavily laden servant
Though smiling, the young woman seems to move forward with difficulty, slightly bent under the weight of her burden. She is entirely naked except for a broad necklace that covers her shoulders; jewels, now lost, once adorned her legs, but she still wears her earrings, visible under her thick braided hair. Her nudity contrasts with the rich decoration of the objects she carries: a stemmed krater with scroll handles on her right shoulder, and a bag in her left hand. Both these objects are decorated with water lily petals, the ubiquitous plant motif in art of this period, which also reappears on the plinth supporting the figure. The vase is hollowed into the shape of a spoon, which is concealed under a cover that pivots on a tenon. The composition is perfectly balanced and the object is in an impeccable state of preservation.
This object imbued with an artistic aesthetic belongs to a category that is well represented in museums around the world; as in almost every domain of Egyptian art, none of these spoons is similar to any other. This one is particularly large, and its slender shape suggests a date from the early Ramesside period. The figures adorning these objects, generally female, are placed in bucolic, artistic (dance or music), or domestic scenes, as with this example. They are not identified as either historic figures or divinities. The action does not seem intended for a deity, and there is no accompanying inscription. Other spoons feature images of flowers, elaborate bouquets, animals in action, and trussed game animals: a repertoire that is ultimately fairly similar to the genre scenes and still lifes of western art.
A purpose that remains a mystery
The purpose of these objects has never been fully determined. The receptacles are shallow, which suggests they might be cosmetic spoons. These highly colored and oily products would have left traces on the spoons, however, and yet the wood is perfectly clean. Though fragile, the handles bear no marks or signs of wear.
The elaborate bouquets and trussed game animals represent temple scenes of offerings to the gods. Such subjects may have been adapted for objects intended as gifts, which would correspond well with their generally attractive themes and subjects, a reflection of the sensibilities of the upper echelons of New Kingdom society. Indeed, many of these spoons were found in the necropolis of the royal harem of Medinet el-Ghurob, in the Faiyum region.
J. Vandier d'Abbadie, Musée du Louvre Département des Antiquités Egyptiennes - Catalogue des objets de toilette égyptiens, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 1972, pp. 20-1, entry 30.
Author(s): Pierrat-Bonnefois Geneviève