Cosmetic palette

The Four Dogs Palette, Room 20 of the Louvre.

The cosmetic palettes are archaeological artefacts, originally used in predynastic Egypt to grind and apply ingredients for facial or body cosmetics. The decorative palettes of the late 4th millennium BCE appear to have lost this function and became commemorative, ornamental, and possibly ceremonial. They were made almost exclusively out of siltstone with a few exceptions. The siltstone originated from quarries in the Wadi Hammamat.

Many of the palettes were found at Hierakonpolis, a centre of power in pre-dynastic Upper Egypt. After the unification of the country, the palettes ceased to be included in tomb assemblages.

Notable palettes

Notable decorative palettes are:

Even undecorated palettes were often given pleasing shapes, such as the zoomorphic palettes, which included turtles and, very commonly, fish. The fish zoomorphic palette often had an upper-centrally formed hole, presumably for suspension, and thus display.

The Near East stone palettes are from Canaan,[2] Bactria, and Gandhara.

History of Egyptian palettes

Siltstone was first utilized for cosmetic palettes by the Badarian culture. The first palettes used in the Badarian Period and in Naqada I were usually plain, rhomboidal or rectangular in shape, without any further decoration. It is in the Naqada II period in which the zoomorphic palette is most common. On these examples there is more focus on symbolism and display, rather than a purely functional object for grinding pigments. The importance of symbolism eventually outweighs the functional aspect with the more elite examples found in the Naqada III period, but there is also a reversion to non-zoomorphic designs among non-elite individuals.

List of ancient Egyptian Predynastic palettes

Name Dimensions Location Notes + Topic
Battlefield Palette
Vultures Palette, etc.
Full Height?
50 x 32 cm-(?)
(20 x 13 in)
British Museum Side A: war; Side B: peace
('Order vs Chaos')
Bull Palette Louvre
Hunters Palette 30.5 x 15 cm
(12 x 6 in)
British Museum
Libyan Palette Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Min Palette British Museum
Narmer Palette
Great Hierakonpolis Palette
64 x 42 cm
(25 x 17 in)
Louvre Unification of Southern Egypt, Delta Egypt

The Narmer Palette is in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, not in the Louvre.

See also


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ancient Egyptian palettes.
  1. Baines, J. (1993). Symbolic roles of canine figures on early monuments. Archéo-Nil: Revue de la société pour l'étude des cultures prépharaoniques de la vallée du Nil, 3, 57-74.
  2. Festschrift, Rëuben R. Hecht, Korén Publishers 1979
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