Collection online

spacer-bead / plaque

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Blue glazed composition spacer-bead plaque: two scenes, essentially amuletic in purpose, are presented on this openwork spacer bead. On the obverse is a figure of a king in the centre, facing right, wearing a broad collar and kilt, with a uraeus ar the brow of his wig; he is flanked by the gods Horus on the left and Thoth on the right, who pour streams of purifying, vivifying waters over him in a reference to his coronation. A lioness goddess (Sekhmet) stands to the far left, with a cobra on a papyrus to the right. On the reverse is a central figure of Horus, a falcon-deity with sun-disc, holding in his left hand a bound and cowering prisoner. Flanking deities that lid in this typically royal triumph are, on the right, Montu in double plumes and Mut in double crown, waving a sistrum; and on the left, Horus in a double crown, and a lion-headed goddess, possibly again Sekhmet, wearing the sun-disc. The bead is pierced at the top and bottom.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 9thC BC-8thC BC
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 5.5 centimetres
    • Height: 3.3 centimetres
    • Depth: 0.6 centimetres
    • Weight: 11 grammes
  • Curator's comments

    Technically, the spacer is a miniature marvel that illustrates an extraordinary ability to produce small-scale, openwork figural pieces through free-hand carving. Although the actual method of manufacture is unknown, we can make conjectures based on RISD replication experiments. The two faces of the bead's design were cut separately from a thin, flat slab of glazed composition paste. Additional details could have been made with fine modeling tools. When nearly dry, the two sides were held together by the faience frame. Seam lines at two diagonal corners of the frame suggest that it is made from two L-shaped sections that were joined. To facilitate assembly of the panels and frame, a thin rectangle of organic material like wood, papyrus, or cartonnage could have been used as a rigid supporr between the panels that would later fire our. Such a support would also have prevented shifting or slumping of the riny figures during firing. A slurry of glazed composition paste with the addition of gum or glue could have served to adhere the cut-out panels to the frame. The stringing holes, nine at the top but oddly ten at the bottom, would have been pierced with a sharp tool before firing.
    When dry, the bead would have been painted with a glaze slurry with a copper colorant rhat fired to bright blue. The artisan also sharpened some contours before firing for carved areas are visible on the interior of some of the figures.

    Spacer beads, common in Egyptian jewellery since the Old Kingdom, were not merely decorative but also served a function: as bars or plaques they were strung at intervals along the length of a necklace, choker, or anklet, or at the Terminal points, to keep the strings from sagging and angling.

    The beads often had as subjects, either the youthful or rejuvenated king or the subjugation of foreign enemies. In the politically fragmented times of the Third Intermediate Period, royal themes that had traditionally been depicted on temple and palace walls or inscribed in funerary texts now found new and smaller fields for expression, such as these spacer beads. With images of the ever-youthful, powerful king who ruled under the eternal protection of the gods, the beads may allude more specifically to a coronation theme. This interpretation is in keeping with the suggestion that some or all such openwork spacers were made to celebrate the New Year at Hermopolis (Tuna el-Gebel), the possible production site of openwork glazed composition spacers and dated relief chalices of the Third Intermediate Period.

    G. A. D. Tait, 'The Egyptian Relief Chalice', in 'Journal of Egyptian Archaeology' 49 (1963), p. 130, iv, pl. XXIV, 4;
    C. Andrews, 'Amulets of Ancient Egypt' (London, 1994), p. 101, fig. 101 c.
    C. Ziegler, 'The Pharaohs' (Venice, 2002), p.400 [37].
    F. D. Friedman, Gifts of the Nile. Ancient Egyptian Faience, London 1998, 193.


  • Bibliography

    • Friedman 1998 46 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    Exhibited: 2002 8 Sept-2003 25 May, Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Les Pharaons
    2016 8 Mar-12 Jun, Cleveland, Cleveland Museum of Art, Pharoah: King of Egypt

  • Condition


  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Ancient Egypt & Sudan

  • BM/Big number


  • Registration number



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Object reference number: YCA70921

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