The Nile in the hippopotamus
Being and becoming in faience figurines of Middle Kingdom ancient Egypt
in Images in the making
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Ancient Egyptian grave goods are traditionally understood as relatively straightforward evidence of the material needs of a human being in the afterlife, either literally (e.g. food and drink) or in various symbolic ways. A good example where such symbolic readings have dominated modern understandings is the well-known category of faience figurines of hippopotamuses from Middle Kingdom (Middle Bronze Age, early second millennium BCE) Egypt. Drawing on the materiality of the object and the transformations it undergoes during fabrication, it is argued that the production technique based on chemical efflorescence offers a powerful conceptual model for the ontology of the image. The mode of fabrication where an internal potential is drawn out of the material by drying and heating on the one hand, and the surface decoration representing the lush aquatic environment of the river Nile on the other, serve to add elements of flow and continuous becoming to the otherwise fixed and stable form of the glazed figurine.

Images in the making

Art, process, archaeology

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