Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Divine Colors of Hathor

Bracelet with Image of Hathor, 100 BC
Harvard University--Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Used with permission.

by Angela Magnotti Andrews

This ancient artifact is on display as part of newly opened exhibition, Gold and the Gods: Jewels of Ancient Nubia, on view at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston. The bracelet was fashioned during the Meroitic period of Nubia's history, probably around 100 BC.

Decorated with exquisite gold work and stunning enamel work, this bracelet features prominently the goddess Hathor (Isis), who serves as the great mother goddess of Ancient Egypt and Nubia. Here she is depicted in gold, seated on a throne and wearing a sun disk with two cow horns and a rearing cobra, which connotes royalty and/or divine authority.

She is set in relief against a dark blue background, a supremely preserved example of the Nubian mastery of enameling. Though the surface has thinned over time, the original composition of the glass they used is "nearly unaltered" {4, p.150}. This portion of the bracelet was made out of soda-lime glass of unknown origins, tinted with a slight bit of cobalt to attain the deep blue coloring.

The aqua-colored and red-violet sections of the bracelet show more wear, making analysis difficult. Manganese and copper tint the purplish-red areas, a color not typically seen in Nubian pieces. The aqua color, as seen on this and other pieces from this time period, is likely colored by manganese, cobalt, copper, and a high level of iron {4, p.150}.

These colors were more than decorative. Every god and goddess was associated with different colors. Hathor (called Isis in Egyptian lore) was represented by the colors green, blue, and black {2}. Both black and green were associated with everything we now attribute to the color green--life, renewal, growth, and the earth's plant life {2}. Blue was connected to the waters and the heavens, and since Hathor was revered as the mother of all life, it makes sense that her colors would be both earthly and divine.

The red color represents the counterpoint to Hathor's rich contribution to earth. Associated in Ancient Egypt with the color of the desert, red represents the chaos and disorder waiting around every corner. It sometimes represented death, infertility, and destruction {1}. However, being the color of blood, red might also represent life and protection {1}. It was commonly used to decorate protective amulets, which this bracelet may have been for someone at one time.

To view this spectacular specimen up close, you need only visit the MFA during their open hours between now and May 14, 2017. Details are available on the MFA's website.

Bibliography

  1. About.com African History. "Red Colors in Ancient Egypt." Accessed July 17, 2014. http://africanhistory.about.com/od/egyptology/ss/EgyptColour_6.htm.
  2. Isidora. "Is Isis a Black Goddess?" Isiopolis Blog, December 2, 2011. http://isiopolis.com/2011/12/02/is-isis-a-black-goddess/.
  3. Markowitz, Yvonne J. and Denise M. Doxey. Jewels of Ancient Nubia. Boston: MFA Publications, 2014.
  4. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Gold and the Gods: Jewels of Ancient Nubia." Accessed July 17, 2014. http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/gold-and-gods.

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