Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 11, 2019

Tracking Pot Designs

Tracking Pot Designs

Jan Picton

Who doesn’t love blue painted pottery? I certainly do, so it’s hard to discard non-diagnostic sherds to the spoil heap. When I found a large sherd with a pattern that I didn’t recognise I kept it with the diagnostics to check with Diana. Although produced from the mid-18th Dynasty through to the 20th Dynasty it’s difficult not to think of these vessels as ‘Amarna blue’ pottery. We all know the traditional repetitive lily petal motif because that pattern, with the decorative banded lines above and below, is the most common decorative scheme. Occasionally, you get the wonderful reliefs of Hathor or Bes on a vessel, or a freehand naturalistic scene of great artistry, but the lily petal motif is almost like a production line of limited variation. So when I saw the row of flattened oval circles it caught my attention. Diana agreed that it was a rare motif so I searched for comparisons both online and in the literature.

Blue painted sherd (JEMIS.2019.64)

Decorating cream slipped ware followed a step-by-step process: first the ‘Amarna blue’ thick bands are applied, these can be haphazard but our sherd is reasonably good. The four blue ‘leaves’ arranged in a loose oval shape which form our basic design were probably done at the same time while the blue paint was on the brush. Then black and red stripes were applied. The four ovoids were probably outlined in black at the same time as the blue bands were. It’s the black outline to each oval leaf that gives it its definition and the four ovoids then make a distinctive flattened circle. The red dots were probably added last (Rose 2007). The number of bands of decoration depend on the size of the vessel. Only one band survives fully on our sherd but there is an indication of another, different, decorative element above the top stripes. Of course, we can’t tell for certain what shape the vessel was but it seems possible that it was the traditional straight necked, full bodied jar so familiar in these designs.

Even on our small sherd with only one complete decorative motif, and a partial motif on either side with the stripes above and below, it is possible to see how carelessly the preliminary blue stripe and leaf pattern was applied before the black and red stripes and outline were added to give coherence to the design.

This design does not appear in the Amarna corpus (Rose 2007) and the only similar motif I found after extensive searching was on Plate 8 of Colin Hope’s ‘Malkata’ corpus in his Pottery of the New Kingdom, so perhaps this is a design specific to the heb-sed festival site of Amenhotep III.

Blue painted amphora from Malqata, back view (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1911, 11.215.460)

Hope has suggested (1989) that the manufacture of blue-painted pottery may well have been a specialised activity and the work of only a few potters, indicated by the standardisation of the designs and motifs which were applied to particular shapes. The use of the blue pigment (cobalt aluminate spinel, probably sourced in the Dakhla oasis) in the colour scheme may further support the idea of a restricted manufacture, as the raw ingredients would not have been widely available.

Close-up of the decoration on a blue-painted jar from Malqata (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1912, 12.180.39)

The distribution of blue-painted ware is found in large quantities only at Thebes and Amarna, and later at Memphis with some found at Gurob and Saqqara. However, it must be remembered that these vessels are containers for desired contents that are shipped from one centre to another, so the find location does not necessary indicate the place of manufacture.

However illustrious the context of our sherd it still seems to agree with the rule that blue painted vessels were mass produced and decorated by rote on a wheel or turntable. This may come as a shock to lovers of ‘Amarna blue’ pottery.

Hope, C. A. 1989. Pottery of the Egyptian New KingdomThree Studies. Burwood.

Rose, P. J. 2007. The Eighteenth Dynasty Pottery Corpus from Amarna. Egypt Exploration Society Excavation Memoir, 83. London.


  1. Most interesting especially about mass production.

    • I recommend Pam Rose’s book if you’re interested in the topic, Mark.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: