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Flask with two handles, Ancient Egypt, New Kingdom, Dynasty XVIII, probably during the reign of Amenhotep III, 1387 – 1348 BC. Faience. Height 9.2 cm; maximum diameter 8.3 cm. Bagot Arqueología - Ancient Art at Brafa Art Fair, Brussels, 21-29 january 2017

An example of great aesthetic value of a glass faience vessel of cobalt blue. The stylized neck emerges from the top of the vessel ending at the mouth with a thin everted rim to allow the easy pouring of liquid. This rim was also emulating the form of an open blue lotus flower, the symbol of the Nile River. Two handles are joined to the rim and fall down to become attached to the shoulders of the vessel. 

This small flask is an antecedent of what are known as “New Year’s flasks”, and also of the Saint Menas pilgrim flasks from the Christian era. It was probably destined, as the former probably also were, to be filled with sacred water from the Nile, or with a special sacred oil.

The form of the flask is one originating outside Egypt. The first known examples come from Crete, where the presence of this form is documented for the Late Minoan I period at the end of the 16th Century BC. In any case, these flasks were typical during the reigns of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten. The workshops of the master glassmakers of Malkata and Amarna produced many examples of this sort of object.

As in many of these, the craftsman incorporated a horizontal register with hieroglyphs. An invocation to the gods to grant the owner of the flask a prosperous new year would be inscribed in these registers. 

Both these flasks and the New Year’s flasks were destined to contain the first water from the flooding during the Egyptian New Year. This was associated with ritual ceremonies at this period and perhaps the water was to be drunk by the owner or poured as the first libation dedicated to the distant goddess, the eye of Ra.

The Egyptian new year began at the end of the dry season or summer, when the level of the Nile began to rise with flooding. The transition from the dry season to the time of flooding was considered by the Egyptians to be a dangerous period. It was a time of disease during which the low level of the Nile waters meant that epidemics could spread. For this reason, at these special moments special rites were celebrated to propitiate the goddess Sekhmet, and to other gods to win favour for the coming year. Ultimately, the idea was to be assured of a healthy and harmonious transition between the old and the new year. The ceremony to appease the lioness goddess, the wife of the god Ptah of Memphis, was present right through the history of Egypt. This type of flask was used in such ceremonies. It took on this particular form from the beginning of Dynasty XXVI when it was produced copying those imported, of Minoan production. 

ProvenancePrivate collection, England, acquired in the 1980s.

J. Bagot Arqueología - Ancient Art - Classical and Egyptian Antiquities. Consell de Cent 278, 08007 Barcelona, Spain