Queens of Egypt and the importance of cosmetics

Yesterday, I went to see an amazing exhibition about the Queens of Ancient Egypt at the Pointe-à-Callière museum right next to the Old Port of Montreal. I was so excited to learn more about these powerful women and also their beauty rituals. I wasn't disappointed!

First, I saw amazing little pots that were used to contain nourishing creams. In ancient Egypt, it was important to care for one's appearance for both aesthetic and sanitary reasons - even in the afterlife. Soap had not yet been invented, so creams and ointments cleansed, softened, and perfumed skin. Both men & women also used powders as makeup for their faces and bodies. The picture below shows all different pots of cream and ointment spoons. Creams were scented with extracts of flowers or fragrant woods and sometimes diluted with lime juice. The most costly were applied with the little finger.

This elegant box, closed with a string between the knobs, bears an offering formula and its owner's name, a lady Tamit ( "the cat"). It would have been placed in a tomb and contained cosmetics and clothing.

Delicious fragrances

How did new kingdom noblewomen use perfumes? We can only surmise it based on what was used much later in the time of the famous Cleopatra. To concoct these expensive mixtures, "priest-perfumers" had access to a wide range of ingredients: henna, spices and herbs (cinnamon, mint, saffron), flower petals (jasmine, blue lotus, water lily, rose), citruses, sandalwood, resins (myrrh, pine, Frankincense, terebinth), juniper oil, bitumen, honey, and animal fat. The ingredients were finely ground with a pestle, with or without a fatty substance, to make a paste, and sometimes heated.

A perfume's reputation was based on the rarity of the ingredients. Some things haven't changed. Here are some perfume bottles used by the Queens of Egypt. Can you see the perfume bottle in the shape of a pomegranate, a fruit associated with sexuality and the female breast?

Below, this opulent set includes a cream jar, a kohl tube, and a place to store the applicator. The artist sculpted a young woman on this kohl tube, which could accommodate two applicators.

I hope you enjoyed this fragment of history as much as I did. All the information in this blog is taken from the explanations beside each display.

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