Kohl jar with monkeys in relief

Middle Kingdom to Second Intermediate Period, Dy
1991–1550 B.C.

Object Place: Egypt, Probably from Thebes


Height x diameter 5.5 x 5.8 cm (2 3/16 x 2 5/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


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.

This vessel is carved from pale blue anhydrite, a stone favored by the makers of cosmetic vessels in the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period, although rarely found in contexts dating to other eras. The source of this beautiful stone remains unidentified. This kohl jar, which would originally have had a lid, is decorated with monkeys in raised relief. The monkeys sit with their tails stretched out beneath them and their limbs spread wide to envelope the jar. Monkeys are frequently associated with cosmetic items as well as with erotic scenes in Egyptian art. They appear to have symbolized sexual attraction.


Probably from Thebes (and excavated by Mr. Theodore M. Davis); 1949: purchased by the MFA from Mr. Daniel W. Jones whose father worked with Davis at Thebes.*

(Accession date: Aug-25-1949)

*Four objects, 49.1071-1074, purchased as a group for $25.

Credit Line

John Wheelock Elliot and John Morse Elliot Fund