• Egypt, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty
  • Ivory
  • Inv. 165

Cosmetic ‘spoon’

This object is called a ‘spoon’ for cosmetics as it was used as a container for ointments. Carved in ivory, it reveals great artistic sensitivity and a sense of humour when dealing with an everyday theme. It shows a date-palm whose bowl is like a large leaf and handle is a palm-shaped tree-trunk. Leaves grow out of the thick, irregular trunk and heavy bunches of dates hang down on either side of it, while two monkeys are eating the fruit with great gusto. On one side of the trunk, an old man is holding a stick and guarding the dates, while on the other side, a bold young man is climbing the tree to steal them.

This piece does not have the customary symmetry found in this type of object due to the positioning of the two figures, which were evidently carved to have an exotic and ironic purpose. The figures are Negroid, clearly Nubians, as shown by the customary ethnic details: the man’s curly hair and earring, and the boy’s facial features. Small parts of the object have been lost, since the end of the bowl, the man’s stick and parts of the boy’s head and foot have all been broken.

The material is unusual, as the typical ‘spoons’ for ointments from this era are almost always made of wood or other materials.

MacGregor Collection. Acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian through Howard Carter at the sale of the MacGregor Collection, Sotheby’s, London, June/July 1922.

L. 20 cm

Araújo 2006

Luis Manuel de Araújo, Egyptian Art. Calouste Gulbenkian Collection. Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, 2006, pp. 78–9, cat. 9.

Updated on 22 april 2022

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