Ancient Egyptian Cosmetic Spoons

Fig 53. Cosmetic Spoon.

Provenance unknown. New Kingdom, Dynasty XVIII, 1391-1353 BC
Wood and ivory. H: 6 cm, W: 29.3 cm, D: 7.5 cm.
Acquired in 1853. Clot Bey Collection. E218, Louvre Paris.

Andreu, Guillemette et al., 1997. Ancient Egypt at the Louvre. Paris.


The era of Amenophis III was a period of magnificent creations. These artistic heights are illustrated in the technique of the many monumental works, as well as in the production of fine masterpieces. The elegance of these works is matched only by their refinement. The Department of Egyptian Antiquities has one of the most complete collections of cosmetics spoons, which are small, beautifully decorated recipients. This example is one of the most famous among the one hundred in the museum.

This spoon consists of two sections, the handle and the bowl, both sculpted in wood. The handle is formed of a nude young woman, represented on her stomach as if swimming. Her long legs are stretched out behind her, her head is held upright as if she were emerging from water, and her graceful form gives the impression that she glides effortlessly through the water. She appears to be towed by the winged creature, sometimes identified as a duck, sometimes a goose, that swims ahead of her. The body of the animal is hollowed out as a recipient for the kohl, while the wings are hinged to form a two-part cover that opens by pressing a small button on the end of each wing. The head, made of ivory with three rings of ebony at the base of the neck, is the result of a recent restoration, but it is a plausible addition that can be seen in other spoons of this type.

The nature of these cosmetics spoons has been hotly debated, depending on whether they are viewed as simple toiletry items or as highly symbolic, ritual instruments. Rarely discovered in their archaeological context, these spoons are virtually absent from the images on the walls of private tombs. They are extremely fragile and difficult to make and were probably not intended for everyday use. They must have been included among the most precious unguent pots and cosmetics recipients in the funerary furnishings of individuals living under the reign of Amenophis III. This spoon, which has a poetic and familiar decoration, recalls the Egyptian's fondness for aquatic pleasures and excursions on the ponds. When discovered, it still had traces of the kohl and perfume that has been stored, in its receptacle; these elements were meant to confer on its owner the vital energy symbolized by this young girl.

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last updated 25th November 2001

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