Alabaster Perfume Vase of Tutankhamun
This perfume vase of King Tutankhamun is made of four pieces of alabaster cemented together. The idea conveyed by its symbolism is that the Nile will provide the king and queen, whose names are inscribed on the vase, with its contents. The vulture with the so-called Atef crown on its head represents either goddess Mut or Nekhbet protecting the perfume.
Flanking the vase are two deities with pendulous breasts and potbellies, both named Hapi, who personify the Nile and its fertility. They are differentiated by the lily and papyrus clusters on their heads as Hapi of Upper Egypt and Hapi of Lower Egypt, representing the sema tawy symbol, unification of the kingdom.
The two divisions of the country and its Nile are further symbolized by the lily and papyrus stems tied to the neck of the vase and held by the two Hapis, each of whom also supports a column representing a single stem and flower of one of the same plants, surmounted by a cobra wearing the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.
In the openwork panels of the stand beneath the vase are figures of falcons with solar disks mounted on the hieroglyphic nbu sign for “gold”, protecting with their outspread wings the cartouches inscribed with the king’s names and flanked by scepters which symbolize “dominion”. The piece is embellished with gold and painted ivory.
The tomb of Tutankhamun, discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter, contained a vast array of treasures, including several perfumed oil vases.
These vases were often made of alabaster or other precious materials and were intricately designed. They served as containers for the perfumed oils that were used for various purposes, such as religious rituals, personal adornment, and aromatherapy.
Perfumes in Ancient Egypt
Perfumes held great significance in ancient Egypt and were widely used by both men and women. They were considered a luxury and were used for various purposes, including religious rituals, personal adornment, and as offerings to the gods.
Ancient Egyptians believed that perfumes had both practical and spiritual benefits. Perfumes in ancient Egypt were typically made from natural ingredients such as flowers, herbs, spices, and resins.
Some commonly used ingredients included myrrh, frankincense, lotus, rose, lily, cinnamon, and cedarwood. These ingredients were often combined with oils, such as olive oil or almond oil, to create fragrant blends.
Perfumes were available in various forms, including solid cones, liquid oils, and balms. They were applied to the body using different methods, such as rubbing the oils onto the skin or wearing perfumed cones on the head, which would slowly melt and release fragrance throughout the day.
Related: The Making of Lotus Perfume
The art of perfumery was highly developed in ancient Egypt, and perfumers held a respected position in society.
Perfumes were not only used for personal enjoyment but also as a means of social status and as offerings in religious ceremonies.
The ancient Egyptians believed that perfumes had the power to purify, protect, and please the gods, as well as enhance one’s beauty and well-being.
Today, replicas of these ancient Egyptian alabaster perfume containers can be found in museums and private collections, showcasing the exquisite craftsmanship and the importance of perfumes in ancient Egyptian society.
New Kingdom, late 18th Dynasty, reign of Tutankhamun, ca. 1332-1323 BC. From the tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62), Valley of the Kings, West Thebes. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 62114