Kohl jar

Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12–13
1991–about 1640 B.C.

Findspot: Egypt


Height x diameter: 2.9 x 2.9 cm (1 1/8 x 1 1/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Obsidian and gold

On View

Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery (Gallery 119)


The Ancient World



Cosmetics and other toiletries were highly valued by the ancient Egyptians. Both men and women wore eye makeup, which served to protect the eyes from the bright sun and from blowing sand and dust. Pigment was made either from green malachite (a type of copper ore) or from grayish black galena (lead ore) and was kept in a powdered form generically known as kohl. Perfumed unguents, made from oils or fats scented with flowers, herbs, spices, and resins, were prized for their rare ingredients and were used both in the daily cosmetic regimen of wealthy Egyptians and as funerary offerings to anoint the bodies of the dead.

Kohl was stored in specially made containers, frequently carved from hard stones and featuring a squat body, flat lip and rim, and a neck opening just wide enough for the insertion of a finger or kohl stick. The delicate little kohl jar seen here is clearly a luxury item, made of highly polished black obsidian, a form of volcanic glass. The rim is covered in gold leaf, and it is likely that the cover (now missing) would originally have been rimmed with gold as well.


By 1967, sold by Robert Gordon Faudree to Horace L. Mayer (b. 1899 - d. 1968), Williamstown, MA [see note 1]; to his widow, Florence Ellen Mayer, Williamstown; 1973, gift of Mrs. Mayer to the MFA. (Accession Date: January 9, 1974)

[1] According to a letter from Horace Mayer to Edward Terrace of the MFA (November 17, 1967). First lent by Horace L. Mayer to the MFA on October 17, 1967 (loan no. 206.67).

Credit Line

Gift of Mrs. Horace L. Mayer