Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Cosmetic box in the shape of a composite capital

Late Period–Ptolemaic Period
664–300 B.C.
From Egypt
Glassy Faience
H. 8.5 cm (3 3/8 in); w. 9 cm (3 9/16 in)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1999
Accession Number:
1999.213a, b
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 134
The lid of this delicately carved box created in glassy blue-green faience represents a column capital of a type well known from architectural examples in extant Ptolemaic Period temples. The precise date of the piece is undetermined because such boxes are extremely rare. The origin of the type can be traced back to cosmetic spoons and boxes of the late New Kingdom (ca. 1390–1070 B.C.), but the earliest representations of a similar capital is found in a fourth century B.C. tomb.

Such containers may have belonged to members of Egypt's aristocracy, but research suggests that they were more likely made for use in temple rituals, a function the decoration reinforces. Although boxes generally were held shut with a string wound between two knobs, the attachment on this one was not designed to be used in this manner, emphasizing a ritual function.

The hole in the lid and the socket indicate that a peg once allowed the lid to pivot in either direction. Stains on the inside of several compartments establish that they originally contained ointment.
Purchased by the Museum from Emmanuel Tiliakos, Winchester, Massachusetts, 1999. Previously in a private collection, for which it had been purchased from "Origins" Gallery, Boston, in the late 1960s. Published in the MMA Bulletin, Fall 1999.

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