- Museum number
An inlaid sphere: a wooden sphere carved in wood apparently in two sections, presumably joined at central register. Pierced at top and bottom. The exterior surface was carved to receive the inlays, all the hollows were coated with coloured substances which in general do not match the colours of the glass inlays.
There is a central register of squares chiefly red and green alternating, but there are a few in dark-blue glass. The remaining areas of the sphere are inlaid to represent lotus flowers as if growing out of the openings at the two poles and thus facing. The outer and larger petals are in opaque white glass. The smaller and inner petals are in green and blue glass. The small triangular spaces adjoining the tips of the petals directly above and below the central register are inlaid in opaque red glass. All exposed wooden surfaces were covered with gold leaf.
Diameter: 4.70 centimetres
Height: 5.23 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- One of a pair. These spheres, seemingly unique, were acquired by Henry Wallis in March 1891, apparently in Cairo, along with the splendid open-work vase in Egyptian blue now in Brooklyn. The vase is so characteristic of work produced at Tuna el-Gebel that that site is the probable provenance. All three objects were acquired at the very time when that site was being looted, as we know from the records of Major Myers and others.
The function of these spheres has never been satisfactorily explained. An identification with mace heads has been suggested. But that form had long since gone out of use as a funerary or votive offering. The piercings suggest that they were mounted on an armature along with other elements, the ensemble presumably forming a votive staff or sceptre.
While these spheres are said to have been found with the openwork vase assigned to the Twenty-second Dynasty now in Brooklyn, it is not necessary to place these pieces so late. Objects at least as early as the reign of Amenhotep III were numerous at Tuna el-Gebel. The splendid workmanship of the spheres strongly suggests the date assigned here.
A letter written by Wallis to Mr. Franks of the British Museum, dated 2 March 1891, is apparently the first mention of these unusual pieces. He wrote, 'Also two wooden balls encrusted with glass paste set in gold. Similar work is found on Ramesside coffins, so the date will probably be the XXth dynasty.' He makes no mention of the provenance or of the open-work vase. It is difficult to understand what he had in mind in this reference to Ramesside coffins.
C N Reeves (1990) suggests that this and EA 37500 were perhaps 'elaborate toys - rattles - of the type represented in a less sophisticated form by British Museum EA 46709-12'.
H. Wallis, 'Egyptian Ceramic Art, The MacGregor Collection' (London, 1898), mentioned on page opposite pl. III.
C N Reeves, JEA 76 (1990), 236.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Egypt and Sudan
- BM/Big number
- Registration number