Friday, October 16, 2009

The Egyptian Look

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

Ancient Egyptians were always aware of how appearances matter, where beauty and elegance were the top concern. And in every portrait the focus was always on the meticulously and beautifully outlined eyes that stood out and captured the world. During all periods and dynasties of ancient Egyptians, both men and women, applied eye makeup on a daily prerequisite. It did not only serve as a decorative purpose but it also served medicinal, magical and spiritual practices.

Two eye makeup colors were popular with the ancient Egyptians, the green and the black. Eye makeup was not a luxury reserved for the rich, but even the humblest graves proved to contain some. It was not the existence of makeup that separated rich from poor, but the expense and luxury of the containers and applicators. The eye color was found stored in leather or canvas pouches, small jars, conch shells or within hollow reeds. While the poor used to store it in hollow sticks, the rich used intricately carved and bejeweled containers of ivory or other precious materials.

There were two types of eye color, green "Udju" and black "Mesdemet". Udju was made from green malachite which is the vibrant green ore of copper (copper carbonate hydroxide) and was mined from the Sinai Desert. These mines came under the spiritual domain of the goddess Hathor, ancient goddess of beauty, joy, love and women. She bore the epithet "Lady of Malachite." The malachite stone was crushed and then mixed as the green eye make up. It was especially popular in the Old Kingdom, and right through the Middle Kingdom, but towards the New Kingdom it was replace almost completely by the black color.

Black eye color Mesdemet, was obtained from galena, which is the dark blue-grey ore of lead (lead sulphide). It was obtained either near Aswan in Upper Egypt or at the Red Sea Coast. It was also one of the things that was imported back by Pharaoh Hatshepsut's famed expedition to Punt and was given to her in tribute by the Asiatic nomads. One of the earliest uses of galena was as Kohl. Kohl is a mixture of soot and galena. It gained popularity over the green malachite during the period of the New Kingdom. A small amount of the eye color was mixed with animal fats or even water to make it easier to paint on the face.

The ancient Egyptians used eye makeup not only for cosmetic reasons but also for their medical purposes. Galena possesses disinfectant and fly-deterrent properties. It also protected the eyes from the intense sun. Mesdmemet was prescribed to help cure a number of eye diseases. On the other hand Udju was believed to induce or evoke the eye of Horus, the god of the Sky & Sun and also the god of healing. So outlining the skin around the eye would protect its user, especially from the "evil eye". The Egyptian word for eye-palette was derived from their word for "protect." Kohl was used by mothers, which they applied to the eyes of infants after they were born, was believed to strengthen the child's eyes and protect him from being cursed by the "evil eye". This tradition is still practiced to this day, but in the rural parts of Egypt.

Today galena can be easily and inexpensively purchased but under the name Kohl. Outside of Egypt, it can be purchased from vendors that supply accessories to Eastern dancers. Real kohl usually comes in a little box containing a stick-like applicator and a compartment for the make up itself, so its appearance and way of application has not changed over the centuries. Today kohl can also be purchased in the form of a pencil which is a lot easier to apply.

So ancient Egyptian eye makeup did more than paint a pretty face! Although Kohl became a popular cosmetic once again during the 1920s, when an "Egyptian look" came into fashion in the United States and Europe, and it is still used as eyeliner in many Eastern countries.

About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem