Hedgehog, Owl and Duck-shaped Bottle

Vessel (aryballos) in the form of a hedgehog
Faience, height x length: 4.5 cm x 7 cm
John Wheelock and John Morse Elliot Fund 1971, MFA #1971.145

Inlay in the form of an owl
Faience, height x width: 2.7 x 2 cm (1 1/16 x 13/16 in.)
Gift of Mr and Mrs. Perry T. Rathbone 1971, MFA #1971.773

Perfume bottle in the form of a duck
Dynasty 26, 664525 B.C.E. Faience, height x width: length x width x height: 2.7 x 3.6 x 7.8 cm (1 1/16 x 1 7/16 x 3 1/16 in.)
Marilyn M. Simpson Fund 1996, MFA #1996.108
Photos ©Joan Ann Lansberry, 2014


"The Greek aryballos (a small, narrow-necked flask for oil or perfume) has been adapted here to the form of a hedgehog, which has a long history in Egyptian art. Since the hedgehog hibernates, Egyptians may have associated it with the powers of self-renewal and resurrection. The vessel form evidently appealed to Greek settlers in Egypt, for the chief center of production of faience aryballoi was the Greek trading settlement at Naukratis in the western Nile Delta."(From info card)

"The body of this slender vessel takes the shape of a plucked duck or goose bound with string and ready for cooking - a familiar theme in Egyptian art. During the Old Kingdom, some tombs were provided with life-size cases shaped like such birds with real food offerings inside, while other tombs contained miniature versions in solid stone. In the Middle Kingdom, perfume and ointment containers in the form of trussed ducks were carved in the beautiful blue stone anhydrite, and that tradition continued into the New Kingdom. This Late Period example, however, may owe as much to contemporary Aegean figural vases as it does to its Egyptian precedents. Like some Corinthian oil bottles, it rests horizontally on its belly (it will not stand unsupported), and has a handle in the form of an animal's neck that curves back from the rim of the vessel so that the head rests on the body. The Egyptians loved such figurative vessels that were functional at the same time. The small size and narrow opening of this bottle would have been perfect for precious ointments or perfumes that were used only in small doses and needed to be protected from evaporation. The material from which the bottle is made, faience, is difficult to work. A nonclay ceramic manufactured from crushed sand and salt, and a colorant, it has none of the malleability of clay. The small size, fancy shape, subtle hues, and remarkably thin handle of this faience vessel make it a masterpiece in miniature." (From museum website)