Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Craftsmen And Their Tools For Making Egyption Jewelry

Egyptian Pendant
In the so called Satire on the Trades, which the Egyptian schoolboy was expected to copy as part of his onerous training, and in order to encourage his flagging resolution, the privileged lot of the scribe is contrasted with that of less favored workers. 'I have never seen a goldsmith sent Ion an important mission]', declares the author, 'but I have seen the metalworker at the mouth of his brazier. His angers were dried and wrinkled like the skin of a crocodile, and he stank worse than the roe of fishes.' Such lampoons tend to obscure the esteem that was felt for the craftsmen who produced jewels in such abundance for their wealthy clients. 

Apuia, one of the chief goldsmiths of Amenophis III, was influential enough to build a handsome tomb for himself in the necropolis of Memphis; and his son, Pa-ren-nefer, who held a like office under Akhenaten, not only had a large sculptured tomb at Thebes, but an equally important one at Amarna. Pa-ren-nefer, in fact, was sufficiently intimate with the king to be appointed his cup-bearer.
It may well be that the apprentices and journeymen who actually sat over the heat of their charcoal braziers manipulating their blowpipes and tongs were inferior in the social scale to the artists who designed the jewels and supervised their manufacture, but they were certainly not unprivileged. The favored position and modest affluence enjoyed by the mortuary craftsmen of Deir el-Medina suggest that all similar adepts at highly regarded trades could command the respect and purses of their patrons.
The gold deposits in the deserts bordering Egypt and Nubia were the most considerable of the ancient world and it is probable that the techniques of extracting the metal and its alloys and working it were largely Egyptian discoveries. Such knowledge would have been handed down over the centuries from father to son as a closely guarded mystique; and while there is no evidence for the existence of guilds of goldsmiths it is probable that the craft of the jeweller remained in the hands of a limited number of families working in one or two favored localities. It is to be suspected, for instance, that the ancient northern capital Memphis, with the artificer Ptah as its patron deity, housed the most important goldsmiths' quarter, a tradition which persisted in medieval times and survived until recently in the metalworkers of the Cairo bazaars. 

It is also not improbable that accomplished workmen from other areas of the Mediterranean may have been attracted to this centre, drawn by the demand for jewelry, and the opportunities for patronage at a period of high culture and prosperity. As gold was a precious material, and its control and use the chief interest of kings, goldsmiths were a privileged community who worked . mostly in royal workshops, or those attached to cults under royal protection. 

If their patrons withdrew their support for any reason, such as anarchy, conquest or impoverishment, the goldsmiths could migrate to where-ever their luxurious trade was welcome. By the New Kingdom it would seem that the goldsmith's techniques were practically universal over the Near East, and it is sometimes difficult to claim certain goldwork found in Egypt as exclusively native in design and manufacture.
Egyptian JewelryBesides the king, such wealthy patrons as the gods of the larger cities, particularly Amun of Thebes, employed goldsmiths in their workshops. Three overseers of goldsmiths were rich enough to have tombs in the Theban necropolis, while the exact location of five others has been lost. In addition it is known that two other goldsmiths, perhaps connected with the Court, had tombs at Thebes. A number of relatively expensive monuments made for goldworkers are scattered among the world's collections. Such men were doubtless highly skilled craftsmen, but they were not necessarily the designers of the jewels that they were called upon to make, apart from those of traditional pattern which varied little from one generation to the next.

The designs of Court jewels would have to be changed, in some particulars at least, with each reign; and original artists might very well have added striking novelties to the old stock of patterns. The Dahshur and Lahun jewels show how changes could be rung on familiar themes. All the pectorals differ in their designs with the exception of one belonging to the Princess Sit-Hathor-Yunet, which appears to be a copy of an earlier model, and made by an uninspired workman.
The chief jewellers were doubtless literate men who had had the general training of a scribe but had specialized in the decorative arts. They probably knew all the techniques used by the goldsmiths and lapidaries though they may not necessarily have been proficient in them. The chief sculptor Neb-Amun, who lived under Amenophis III and was evidently a designer who could produce the drawings and cartoons for all objects of applied art besides sculpture, is shown in the paintings in his tomb examining the products of metalworkers, joiners and other crafts-men, which are brought to him for his inspection and approval. 

The Second Prophets of Amun at Thebes during the New Kingdom seem to have had special responsibilities for supervising various constructions and commissions on behalf of their king as well as their god. Thus paintings in the tombs of some of these officials show them examining the work of several craftsmen in the workshops attached to the temple of Amun, including the goldsmiths' ateliers where the weighing-out of the gold and silver to be allocated to the various jobs is done under the eye of one of their officers. 

Man at a brazerThe rich funerary equipment, embellished with gold and silver inlaid with semi-precious stones and coloured glass, which Amenophis III provided for his parents-in-law, was made under the supervision of their son, the Second Prophet of Amun, though unfortunately the valuable jewels that must have been supplied as part of the gift had been stolen by the time the tomb was discovered in 1905. There is even some evidence that Tuthmosis III may not have disdained to design a set of vessels for the treasure he dedicated to the temple at Karnak. Certainly the chief sculptor of Akhenaten confesses that the king himself instructed him. This probably means that Akhenaten also stipulated the design of the jewels which he presented so lavishly to his family and friends.
In the Old Kingdom, it would appear that the chief priests of the artificer god Ptah of Memphis, who bore the title 'Greatest of Craftsmen', were responsible for the designing of works of art both great and small, including jewelry. In reliefs of this period, dwarves are frequently shown handling the finished ornaments. In view of the fact that Ptah can appear in the form of the dwarf Patek, such dwarves may have had some connection with the making of jewelry; but it is more likely that, as they were chiefly employed as valets and personal attendants upon the Royal Family and high Court officials, they were more concerned with assembling and storing such adjuncts of clothing in their masters' wardrobes.
The jewellers par excellence were, of course, the gold-and silversmiths, as is the case even today, but a list of craftsmen in the Hood Papyrus already referred to, shows that there were minor specialists among this group of workers. Thus the nuby, or goldsmith, is immediately followed by the neshdy, or worker in precious stones, whom today we would call a lapidary since his products were suitable for inlaying in wooden and stone furniture besides metal settings. There was also a baba, or faience-maker, a firer of glaze, who practised the art of firing a quartz paste into moulded shapes generally with a brilliant blue or green glassy surface, but later in other colours as well, or combinations of two or more colours in the same piece. In the New Kingdom he doubtless added the new-fangled art of making glass to his repertoire of skills. 

Another member of the jewellers' fraternity was the setro who appears to have been a maker of necklaces, a skilled occupation as anyone will know who has attempted to reconstruct an Egyptian 'broad collar' from its component parts. He made use of the products of the fru weshbet, or bead-maker; but whether this particular workman was restricted to making beads in glass and faience, in which case he would have been a specialist kind of baba, or whether he worked and drilled the precious stones of the neshdy is unknown, although the latter is sometimes found drilling beads. The enormous number of beads that were produced in Egypt from all kinds of materials and which give its jewelry so much of its characteristic form and appearance, suggest that the iru weshbet were many and industrious.
gold inlaid with carnelian, turquoise and lapis lazuli. The bivalve shell is entirely of gold with the name of Sesostris In supported by uraei formed in wire and soldered to its face. The pectoral shown back and front is based upon a royal design with crows In reliefs and paintings the jewellers are shown working side by side with metalsmiths and joiners, apparently in the same ateliers. This was probably because close supervision was exercised over all those workers who had to use gold, silver and to a lesser extent bronze, in the objects they made. The gold and silver are shown being carefully weighed out and recorded for issue to the craftsmen, and doubtless they were strictly accounted for. We know that when the Pharaohs sent jewels and other valuable gifts to their brother monarchs in Asia, they took care to mention the amount of gold and silver that had gone into their making.
Supplies of gold and silver appear to have been reserved for the king or the temples of the gods, such as Amun, to whom the Pharaoh had allocated gold-bearing tracts in the Eastern Desert and in Nubia. Nevertheless a certain amount of gold must have been allowed to reach private hands, for even the modest burials that have been found unrifled often yield up articles of gold in the form of amulets, beads or jewels. Gold could also be worn as gifts of the king, such as orders, decorations and parade weapons; and the bullion with which he rewarded meritorious henchmen could be made into jewels. 

It is clear that private persons besides the Court and the gods could legitimately own articles of gold, because otherwise the robbing of tombs would have been rapidly detected, and the culprits instantly identified. It is probable, therefore, that in addition to working in the studios attached to palaces and temples, the jewellers also did a certain amount of private work in their homes, in very much the same way as the workmen of Deir el-Medina made tombs and monuments for themselves and similar clients when they were resting from their labours on the royal commissions which were their raison d'ĂȘtre.
The tools used by the jewellers were of the simplest and most primitive kind. Their furnace was a pottery bowl upon a stand filled with glowing charcoal. Their blowpipe was a reed tipped with a clay nozzle which would need to be renewed frequently. Yet even with such a crude instrument it would have been possible to raise the temperature of a metal object heated on the brazier to a critical point in selected areas sufficiently high to make hard solders melt and run, and even to fuse the metal being worked if insufficient skill was exercised. 

A workman of the Chief Sculptor Neb-amun weighing out gold rings (against a bronze ox-head weight) which are to be made into such objects as the vessel and collar seen in the basket behind him.
It is clear that the craftsman could have had only a very imperfect control of the heat, and it is astonishing that he achieved so much with such primitive implements. Nevertheless he was well aware of the different melting points of various solders and selected them with the size and nature of the job in view. When a larger mass of metal had to be melted, a squad of men would bring their several pipes to bear upon the fire beneath a clay crucible; by the time of the New Kingdom, however, a blast furnace had been introduced worked by leather bellows actuated by the feet and cords similar to that used by native smiths in Africa in recent times. 

Metal had to be melted in such large crucibles either in order to convert gold dust, ingots or scrap into larger masses that could be subsequently beaten into sheets, or to provide a pour for casting into moulds of clay. The crucibles were lifted off the fire by two springy rods, presumably green sticks, clamped at both ends.
Gold and silver were hammered by polished pebbles held in the hand; and simple as this tool may appear, it would have been entirely effective, the domed head of the stone having the same expanding impact as the collet head of a modern raising hammer, while the flat faces could be used for planishing. The stakes on which vessels are shown in the process of shaping must have been of wood; so are the blocks on which gold and silver are being beaten into leaf. Perhaps such blocks were covered with skin to deaden the jarring effect of beating with a stone held in the hollow of the hand on an unresilient surface.
Men Making Bead NecklaceSuch simple tools are the only ones shown in the hands of metalworkers in the reliefs and paintings. Nevertheless in New York there are two hammer heads of identical shape, one in bronze and the other in limestone, similar to a modern blacksmith's hammer with a flat surface at the proximal end and a tapered wedge-shaped cutting edge at the distal. It is most likely that the limestone specimen, at least, was used for working soft metals such as gold.
The place of the modern file was taken by abrasive stones of various degrees of fineness, made from sandstone and quartzite. Such implements used with fine quartz sand strained through the mesh of cloths of varying degrees of coarseness could also be used for polishing stones chipped into shape for inlays.
The ancient craftsman must have been considerably handicapped by the lack of an effective cutting device such as shears for trimming and shaping metal, which had to be punched with a bronze or copper chisel. Holes were usually made by pressing an awl into gold or silver sheet, though a bow-drill was used for drilling stones. The tongs shown in the hands of workmen seated before their braziers were almost certainly of bronze or copper. Despite such crude and imprecise tools, the Egyptian jeweller achieved results which are very seldom less than commendable; such marvels of craftsmanship as the Dahshur and Lahun treasures are truly astonishing.
Writer - Cyril Aldred
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