Vase in the form of Fish

This vase in the form of fish was found in a medium-sized private house at El-Amarna, buried under a plaster floor together with two glass jugs and some metal objects. It is the most spectacular of a small group of fish-form vessels, all representing the ‘bulti’-fish common in the Nile and a standard feature of Egyptian decorative art.

The body is core-built in blue glass with a matt finish, and is decorated with simple festoons in groups of three or four white lines followed by a yellow line. The tail decorations are in the same colors. The dorsal fin is composed of a series of heavy threads in the body (blue, white, yellow, and turquoise-blue). The front fins are each composed of one light and one darker blue thread.

Vase in the form of Fish
Vase in the form of Fish

In ancient Egypt certain fish were considered sacred because they were linked to a deity. One of these was the protective and benevolent Hatmehit, goddess-fish worshipped around the city of Mendes, in the Nile delta. In Egyptian art she could be represented as a fish or as a woman with a head surmounted by the emblem of a fish or by a “crown” decorated with a fish.

“… Fish abounded in both the Nile and in Egypt’s one true lake, located in an area called the Fayum today… Only a small percentage of saltwater fish were consumed; the majority came from fresh water.

Once a year, as the Nile’s floodwaters receded from the land, fish became trapped in the mud and could be gathered by hand in great numbers, but for the rest of the year Egyptians employed a variety of fishing methods. For sport, fish were speared or hooked, but seines were employed for larger catches, as well as smaller nets, thrown, set in place or even lashed between two boats as a trawl…”

Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians, by Bob Brier, Hoyt Hobbs, 2nd Edition, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, USA, 2008

The front ventral fins are made from one white and one yellow thread each while the rear ventral fin is of turquoise-blue glass. A yellow thread outlines the mouth. The eyes are white opaque circles with the pupils represented by black thread loops. The fish is assembled from several fragments.

New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, Amarna Period, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353-1336 BC. Polychrome glass. From the Collections of the British Museum, London. EA 55193