Anyone with an interest in Ancient Egypt, in particular Ancient Egyptian makeup, should make their way over to the British Museum in London as it is absolutely fascinating!
The museum’s Ancient Egypt collection boasts a variety of dainty cosmetic tools, all of which paint a picture of how important beauty was within society as far back as 1350BC.
“You’re prettier”, “No, YOU’RE prettier”
The cosmetic items on display range from ointment spoons to perfume pots, and each object provides insight into humankind’s longstanding preoccupation with self-image.
The bronze handheld mirror, for example, reflects vanity in one of its oldest forms, whereas the beautifully designed cosmetic boxes encapsulate human beings’ age-old desire to look aesthetically pleasing.
Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the Pharaoh-est of them all?!
Containers for eye-paint and cosmetic oils in Ancient Egypt were lavishly designed using expensive materials such as glass, gold or semi-precious stones. Well, beats cheap lippy and a plastic tube of mascara.
Makeup containers and equipment were also decorated with luxurious status symbols which were often shaped as delicate animals and young women; images which represented rebirth and regeneration.
Ancient Egyptian Ivory Cosmetic Box in the shape of a duck carrying her ducklings
These symbols aren’t a far cry from the imagery used in modern day media, where young females with lithe limbs, glossy manes and long-lashed doe eyes reign supreme. Which begs the question as to whether society’s current obsession with youth and weight is in fact a recent phenomenon at all.
As is the case in modern society, in Ancient Egypt the wealthy were keen to look young and beautiful, and rank and status were displayed through beautification, distinctive clothing and the use of luxury products.
Cosmetic pots Ancient Egypt
The wealthy in Ancient Egypt also had access to perfumed oils, many of which were often imported from abroad, and they painted their eyes with kohl.
Not only was kohl used to create the sultry winged design that’s still very much in vogue today, but it was also used to deter flies, prevent infection and deflect the sun’s glare. Now that’s multi-purpose makeup for you!
Ancient Egyptian Cosmetic Pots
Visit the British Museum to find out more about the cultural significance of beauty in Ancient Egypt and to see the rest of the museum’s wonderful display.
Entry is free so it’s well worth a visit, plus you’ll get to see some very well-preserved mummies (forget No 7, those Egyptians had anti-ageing techniques down to a tee).
Ancient Egyptian duck cosmetic box
To see more ancient Egyptian makeup tools, check out Yesterface‘s article on the Ancient Egypt section at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Alternatively, head to Yesterface‘s Egyptian Makeup Tutorial for a full, step by step guide on how to recreate the ancient look!
Ancient Egyptian Ointment Spoons (British Museum)
A big thank you to the British Museum for letting me use these images of the collection.