Egyptian Faience Ornament in the Shape of a Cobra
Period: Late Period or Ptolemaic Period (7th–1st century B.C.)
Dimensions: L : 11.5 cm
Found in Lebanon, near Tyre; acquired by M. Sleiman Aboutaam in Beirut before 1980.
Conditions: This ornament was reassembled from two fragments, but it is in a remarkably good state of preservation. Except for minor superficial chips, the glaze, uniform in appearance and color, largely retains its original luster.
Although no system allowing the attachment of the object to its support is visible, this ornament probably would have been suspended by small tenons located in the curves of the body or just under the head of the snake (the smooth, fl at posterior part of the ornament might have been easily placed in a preformed hollowed surface). The nature of the ancient support is unknown, but similar ornaments were most often mounted on pieces of furniture, such as wooden chests. They would also decorate wooden sarcophagi or pedestals for a funeral boat, etc. Besides their decorative nature, they also had an apotropaic purpose.
This example—which is distinguished for its outstanding artistic quality, as well as for its unusual size—depicts a cobra without ureaus, but with a swollen hood seen frontally, while the head is represented in profi le. Formally, the long, thin body, with its five curves, could be inscribed inside a rectangle. Linear incisions (net patterns, lines) diff erentiate the scales of the snake on the belly. The small head, the round eyes, and the color and appearance of the faience justify a dating to the Late Period or Ptolemaic era. Widely represented in the fauna of ancient Egypt, snakes were both feared and venerated, as in many civilizations. Although they represented a real danger in the daily life of Egyptians because of their fatal bites, the aversion to these animals was also based on the attacks led several times a day by the mythical serpent Apophis against the solar boat, constantly threatening its race in the sky. At the same time, snakes were a symbol of rebirth, especially when they were coiled, resembling a never-ending body. Images of cobras were also used to dispel evil enemy forces and thus became a protector of the sun and of the pharaoh (uraeus), as well as a popular subject for a large number of pendant amulets, especially from the first millennium B.C. onward.
ADAMS D. N. et al., When Orpheus sang, An Ancient Bestiary (Paris, 2004), pp. 118 ff .
ANDREWS C., Amulets of Ancient Egypt (London, 1994), pp. 75-76.
HERMANN C. – STAUBLI T., 1001 Amulett, Altägyptischer Zauber, monotheisierte Talismane, säkulare Magie (Fribourg, 2010), pp. 110 ff .