The Gods Collection: Dazzling Before Diamonds
Dazzling Before Diamonds: The Egyptian Age of ‘Tjehnet’
In the Ancient Egyptian dialect ‘tjehnet’ meant brilliant or dazzling; words synonymous with jewellery! As evident from the dazzling gold funerary mask of Tutankhamun inlaid with lapis lazuli long before the white brilliance of a diamond bewitched the human eye, gold and the heavenly blues of lapis lazuli, as well as turquoise, were coveted as the most precious materials, used for making elaborate jewellery worthy of the gods.
A popular form of jewellery worn by pharaohs, and slaves alike, was an amulet. Amulets were meant to protect the wearer for eternity, so the durability of the piece was considered carefully by ancient Egyptian craftsmen. Although uncut diamonds were in circulation in the ancient world, and their extreme hardness renowned, they were not the material of choice. Diamonds are a relatively recent addition to the jewellery industry; the few that circulated in the ancient world came exclusively from India. In the bright sunlight of Egypt the reflective gleam of gold, and the gold-flecked lustre of lapis lazuli, must have been dazzling!
The deep blue semi-precious stones must have seemed like a shard of the sky, or a small piece of the sea, were made miraculously tangible for man: no wonder Egyptian mythology was filled with details of lavishly ornamented creatures. For example, in the story of ‘The Shipwrecked Sailor’ (a tale from the Middle Kingdom, Egypt, 2000-1900 BC), a giant serpent is described: “his body was overlaid with gold. His eyebrows were real lapis lazuli.” The emphasis on the lapis lazuli being “real” suggests the frequent use of synthetic lapis-coloured faience in ancient Egypt as a result of a shortages in the supply of the raw material from a high demand. The popularity of lapis lazuli, turquoise, and faience is evident from the archaeological discoveries made in the tombs of pharaohs and common people alike.
Lapis lazuli is a semi-precious stone mined in the hills of what is today Afghanistan. Lapis has been used in jewellery and ground to a powder to colour the walls of temples and statues for millennia. Its value, derived in part from its rarity, has frequently made it more valuable than gold. Its healing properties are believed to include the alleviation of pain, insomnia and vertigo, as well as depression. Lapis lazuli is also said to contain powers in overcoming hearing loss!
Turquoise was nother semi-precious stone used abundantly in ancient Egyptian jewellery. Turquoise’s intense blue colour was prized as visually attractive, and was believed to forge strong visual links to the heavens. It was those used in religious iconography. The bright blue colour of turquoise was also particularly significant in ancient egyptian culture because of its aquatic symbolism. The azure hue of the stone and the river Nile made turquoise especially precious, for the Nile’s importance in the infrastructure of Egypt is incalculable. The river brought life to the land, with its annual inundation nurturing crops that feed the people. The blue waters of the Nile were therefore symbolic of fertility. This symbolism was transposed onto the turquoise stone. It was believed to have protective as well as healing powers and was frequently used in amulets and other protective jewellery pieces.
Tarra Rosenbaum’s Egyptian inspired Gods Collection is a treasure trove of ‘tjehnet’ objects!
Beads have been made since prehistoric times, carved from hard stones such as agate, carnelian, turquoise, lazuli, hematite, serpentine, wood and bone. With the discovery of fire they began to be formed in glass. In Egypt, glass beads are believed to have been made from the XVIIIth Egyptian dynasty (1650-1550 BCE) onwards. Beads were also fashioned from finely glazed pottery known as faience, found as early as 4000 BC.
The high demand and popularity of lapis and turquoise lead to shortages. To compensate for these shortages jewellers invented an artificial alternative, Faiance. The glazing method is believed to have been developed during the end of the 5th millennium BC in Ancient near Egypt. The method produced a colour that was as bright as the original, which was an important aspect of the majestic jewellery produced to honor the gods or to protect the dead on their travels in the afterlife.
The artificially made beads and figurines could be mass produced in molds (see picture below.) Faience remained popular as an affordable substitute for lapis lazuli and turquoise. The bright colours produced by the complex firing process where created from a reaction between the compounds. The sintered quartz ceramic formed a glass-like surface that would reflect the sun. Tarra, with the help of her friend aka "Mummy Doctor" Mimi Leveque, has mastered the ancient technique of Faience to add an authentic ancient aesthetic and pop of vibrant colour to the Gods Collection.
“In ancient Egypt, objects created with faience were considered magical, filled with the undying shimmer of the sun, and imbued with the powers of rebirth." Carolyn Riccardelli, conservator in the Department of Objects Conservation at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, writes in a new essay that explores the techniques involved in making objects such as these. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/egfc/hd_egfc.htm