Ancient Egypt, New Kingdom / Third Intermediate Period, ca. 1550 to 712 BCE. A handsome steatite cosmetic dish in the form of a fish, a remarkably long-lived style of dish favored by the ancient Egyptians. The stone it is carved from is a beautiful mottled dark and light brown with a hint of red from iron content; thin, almost translucent ivory-colored bands pass across the face of the vessel. Unusually, this example has two dishes - a smaller one in the form of a Bolti fish (Nile tilapia), with the distinctive gills and lower fins of that species, and a larger in a more abstract fish-body or leaf-form. They are joined by a curved piece of stone that mirrors the incised form of the fish's fins. Size: 3.95" L x 5.55" W x 0.7" H (10 cm x 14.1 cm x 1.8 cm)
This type of vessel was used to hold cosmetics - the Egyptians are famous for the cosmetics worn by both men and women, like black kohl painted around the eyes. Fish were an important motif in ancient Egypt, and we even have evidence of mummified fish (you can see one in the Louvre!). The tilapia - known as the bolti fish or the nekhau - symbolized regeneration to the ancient Egyptians.
See an example made from a similar material at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/547764
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection; ex-Dr. Sid Port collection, California, USA, acquired in the 1970s
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