Hello everyone! I’m Dr. Colleen Carnell and with me today is Michelle Coursey, and we’re going to be answering your questions about ancient Egyptian makeup and cosmetics here on the Vintage Egyptologist Youtube.
And earlier today we filmed an incredible makeup tutorial that you can check out at My Vintage Love blog, yes on @myvintageloveblog on instagram or Myvintagelove here on youtube, and it was really fun we did a daytime 20s look and then transitioned it to a flapper vamp evening look it was really wonderful because, because Colleen has a perfect 20s face, as you know.
Thank you so much! I don’t think I can hear that enough times. I know right never gets old So what I want to start with looking through the hundreds of questions that we received for this episode is with an object, and this is a vanity set in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
It is from 1800 roughly BCE meaning that it is 3,800 years old, and it looks just like a modern vanity set. Doesn’t it? It really does. I would 100 percent put this on my vanity – it’s tiny and compact, which makes me think that we would appreciate it now, and they would have appreciated it in the 20s because there was a lot of itty bitty tiny compacts, and it was just large enough to actually have a hand mirror, and of course you can’t do your makeup without a mirror.
You definitely need a mirror here to do your makeup. It’s fascinating and we know that the surfaces would have been polished. There’s a fabulous example also in the Metropolitan Museum of Art where the handle is gold and the mirror surface is silver, so if you get to the same level in the case you can see your face reflected in this mirror.
That’s amazing and it would have been a relatively small mirror to fit in the in the compact face yeah the uh that’s pretty you know you can definitely see your face in that yes yeah that’s that’s really amazing yeah and so the less expensive models would have had polished bronze but the queen who actually owned the gold and silver mirror in the metropolitan museum of art obviously coming from the absolute upper echelons of society and how how much makeup was worn by all classes versus just the upper classes in royalty was it very much the prominence of of that world or was everyone wearing it a makeup of some kind that’s actually a really really great question and it’s hard to say because of our source material so most of the times when we see depictions of farmers of people working out in the fields making wine all of these day-to-day activities that we see herdsmen for example in old kingdom middle kingdom and new kingdom tombs that’s an elite context that’s a wealthy tomb owner depicting people and obviously they want to show themselves an absolute finery and we know that during festivals and ceremonies most people probably aspired to have a full face of makeup now the extent to which that happened on an everyday basis like i said it’s very hard to gauge because of our source material so in ancient egypt was there makeup for special occasions like weddings and things like that so it’s really interesting that the annual festivals that we know were really important in communities like Thebes, modern day Luxor, as well as all throughout Egypt each city had its own festivals and then there seemed to have been national festivals like the new years which would have happened really end of july beginning of august where everyone partook of these massive ceremonies and drinking as well as wearing your finest clothing and makeup and wigs would have been a part of that but it’s also really interesting looking at the evidence from ancient egypt that we don’t have any descriptions of wedding ceremonies oh interesting yeah you would think wow with a society so focused on religion and ritual yes weddings and marriage yes were predominantly an economic affair in terms of a bringing together of two estates at the same time they were affairs of love and so if you fell out of love with the person that you had married you could divorce and remarry and there wasn’t these elaborate religious rituals or annulments that would be needed to make those arrangements instead you would have an economic renegotiation and we have that really well attested in the ancient papyri so we’ve gotten a little bit away from makeup interesting i just think that’s we think about makeup for these life-changing events and they certainly had that yeah but not in exactly the same way okay can you talk more about wigs and how that was used was it a ceremonial purely ceremonial was it an everyday thing um would men and women wear them what’s tell me tell me more about wigs in engineering so like makeup wigs were intended for both men and women okay and like makeup wigs were intended to enhance your appearance but just how lipstick is not going to conceal your natural lip a wig did not entirely conceal the existence of your hair and if you look closely particularly there’s this famous statue of a woman named Nofret and her husband Rahotep and they are perfectly absolutely perfectly preserved down to the inlaid rock crystal in their eyes so that when you look at these statues it looks as if they’re looking at you wow and in both cases they are wearing makeup which is really nice interesting to see yeah and they’re both uh the woman is wearing a wig he is not he’s wearing close cropped hair but we know that in other contexts Rahotep just like Nofret would have worn wigs but what i love about that statue is that she’s wearing this very large wig and typically they went larger on the hairstyles wigs were made out of human hair and often these very very elaborate the higher they are the closer to god kind of thought i had to see this okay and you can see her natural hair right below the wig oh okay this is a statue obviously if they didn’t want her natural hair visible they would have changed that yeah they didn’t have to include that but very often they do so they’re acknowledging okay this is her real hair it was probably pretty close cropped which is what would have been comfortable in the heat of ancient egypt but at the same time then you put on that wig so wigs like makeup were especially appropriate to these festival occasions a time when the statues of the gods would come out from the temples typically carried in portable barks portable boats held on the shoulders of priests and this would be a festival in which the entire population could participate so unlike the sacred space of a temple where the average person could only go so far and certainly was not part of the day-to-day ritual that was for priests although and i’m getting way way off the topic of makeup although i’ll talk about the whether priests wore makeup in just a moment but it’s interesting that not all priests in ancient Egypt were professional priests oh so even though we talk about priests doing certain things this is not a separate class which i think is really it can be in the new kingdom okay but a lot of times people who were high priests even might have earlier in their career been in the military been in the civil service so it’s not as if you have priests and then the rest of the egyptian population okay during the middle kingdom for example at a time when the man who owned that amazing vanity set yeah that would have been a time where a lot of people working in the temple would have been rotating throughout the year so you would really have a sense of what went on within a temple complex interesting wow i always thought priests were just a class entirely into themselves you know almost from birth they were brought up as priests but i you’re the professional i don’t know that’s why it’s one of those things where the more listen do you speak and john speak the more i realize the less i know it’s my next phase of knowledge well thank you but also i feel like it’s really important to address these topics because there’s so many misconceptions about how ancient egyptian society functioned and i think that knowledge of marriage and priests and things that we might associate very strongly with egypt that weren’t true at all and i think as a great tie-in actually to our makeup tutorial earlier is it’s all about the sources oh yeah so you have to go back and read the hieroglyphic sources and say okay is this a professional priest or is this someone who’s rotating and we can see that in the titles just like if you want to research a 1920s makeup look you don’t simply google 1920s makeup look you go back to the advertisements and the movies yes and the photos the photos yes and that’s if there’s nothing else you take away from any of our videos always go back to the original sources know what your sources are um you know looking watching the 1960-61 Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra is not going to tell you what you need to know about ancient Egypt um go read one of their lovely books or you know do do look at the source material and you know watch watch an actual claribo film and instead of instead of you know watching a youtube makeup tutorial on 1920s makeup um if you really want to see what they were doing that’s that’s definitely the best message i can send about just history in general the source material is always the best place to start with the exception of the 20s makeup tutorials and i’m really glad you mentioned cleopatra because there were so many questions about cleopatra in fact so many that she really deserves her own episode yeah so for those of you who really want to know about cleopatra in detail you will have to wait but i do want to address the changeover between pharaonic egypt and the greco-roman period and since you brought up elizabeth taylor and cleopatra this really important point that one of the queens of egypt that probably very rarely wore ancient egyptian clothing and makeup was cleopatra because she was greek is that correct exactly cleopatra the seventh the famous cleopatra is the last in the very long line of kings that begins with ptolemy the first one of the generals of alexander the great who takes over egypt in 332 bce now we do not know exactly what cleopatra would have worn in her day-to-day life but chances are both her clothing and her makeup would have been in hellenistic greek style yes now when she was in temples performing rituals for example if you traveled to the temple of Dendera in Upper Egypt dedicated to the goddess Hathor who we’ll be talking about in more detail that is where we have the most famous relief carvings of cleopatra vii in fact those are the well-known relief carvings in upper egypt in full egyptian style and she’s dressed identically to someone from over a thousand years earlier oh amazing but some small variations i should actually say so when she went to perform these rituals as an egyptian queen then she might have worn the wig then she might have applied the makeup then she might have worn the clothes but how you see in the movie where she has and i don’t think any ancient egyptian ever wore eyeliner that quite looks like that because if we look at the ideal of makeup we think of the boss of nefertiti and that’s very subtle yeah i mean she just has the ringed around the eye but then pulled out slightly that’s pretty much it right in terms of eyeliner yes very very very subtle and even her her lip color is very subtle her blush is subtle so quite the opposite from what we see in movies like yes cleopatra yes but i love how that that idea kind of came together and i just i just really wonder like what what source material was elizabeth taylor looking at and the makeup artist for that to say yes that’s that’s the look we’re gonna go for because i think she did actually a lot of her own makeup in that movie which is also is my understanding i should probably look more into that but i i believe she did quite a bit of her own makeup and then she would go out with richard burton on the town and leave some of the makeup on and get photographed by the paparazzi and that’s how kind of how it became such a big fed into the 60s eyeliner extravaganza that was happening during the 60s um all the crazy eye makeup so it’s you know feeding in into each other which is just fascinating i think and that’s that’s such a good point right that movie makeup isn’t so much about the historical time period yeah as it is about when the movie’s being made exactly and i have exactly as well claudette colbert’s look oh yeah and her cleopatra and the height of 1930s bias cut oh yeah style the brow you know the plucked out drawn on brow it’s it’s so fascinating to watch that you know yeah there’s probably cleopatra movie in every decade i assume colbert elizabeth taylor who else i’m having i’m drawing a blank but i’m i’m i can almost bet money that in the 40s caesar and cleopatra yes oh yes and she’s oh she’s so beautiful um but yeah also it’s you know every every movie made is told through the lens that it’s filmed in and i feel like in the last 20 years like we’ve certainly i think they try to be more realistic but we’re still through the lens of the 2010s and it’s it’s just the way it’s always going to be so but that is really interesting and back to what we’re seeing before source material um is is always the place you want to you want to start and it’s always fascinating to see the lens any movie at any thing through the lens it was filmed in and you can take that as inspiration but you know source material is king absolutely yeah talk to me a little bit about facial hair on men fake real all that good stuff i think this is another great myth yeah that exists in the modern world about ancient egypt is that kings wore these goatees right that’s kind of the image we have in our mind from the statuary right but if you go back to king Djoser roughly 2650 bce he’s the guy buried in the step pyramid okay so yeah we went there exactly amazing site Saqqara one of my favorite sites in egypt and there was a statue in a chamber just to the north of the actual step pyramid actually joins uh the step pyramid and in that chamber was a statue of king Djoser and when it was cleaned it was realized that he had a mustache oh that was unusual i would i would think but it actually isn’t a lot of it is that our source material we tend to think about images but if you start looking for mustaches they’re surprisingly common really particularly in the old kingdom so Rahotep that we were just talking about and his wife know fred yeah he has really a douglas fairbanks junior style 1930s movie star mustache i love that okay what were they using to shave back then they had razors really there are so many razors known from ancient egypt and my favorite are razors so they’re made out of copper or bronze they would have obviously been sharpened yeah and some of them even had a combination tweezer so that you had you could use your tweezer and then use your razor wow and during the middle kingdom so the time of that vanity set both mustaches and beards were pretty common the mummy masks in the middle kingdom could actually show combination of beard goatees mustaches which is neat and even if we look at those royal depictions of the king wearing the goatee if you look carefully most of the statues show a strap that connected yeah i was gonna ask about that beard okay that’s not the pharaoh’s beard that’s a false beard that’s put on for ritual activity okay yeah that’s what i that was my vague understanding of it yeah strictly ritual thing to put on during ritual um to appease the gods like what was the to look like a god like what was the thought of the dress that you were supposed to have so it was part of the pharaoh of the king’s ceremonial attire okay in the early part of Hatshepsut’s reign where she’s showing herself as a woman wearing a dress she does not wear the false beard okay and it is only when she shows herself fully male that she then wears the beard okay so it’s not as if she and we don’t know just like when we were talking about cleopatra we can’t be certain what she actually wore day to day right but we can assume what she wore for the temple rituals we actually don’t know what Hatshepsut as a female king which was a very unusual occurrence even in ancient egypt what she would have worn.
It’s possible she would have worn a dress with a kilt tied over it and then maybe did put on the false beard it’s really difficult to say okay and the false beard would have been only something pharaohs would have worn period it wasn’t that like a normal everyday thing as far as we can tell okay yes now whether some people decided to wear it who knows as far as we have it depicted it is a strictly royal accoutrement okay now there’s also a type of beard that is for the gods and that tends to be longer and curved at the end okay and that is something that marks a god like osiris the king can then have that beard when he is osiris in the afterlife so for example there are some statues of Hatshepsut in the guise of osiris and she has that beard okay interesting wow um i think the cosmetic that people associate with ancient egypt the most is kohl and talk to me about that what was it used for what was it made out of was everyone wearing it yeah kohl for the ancient egyptians was galena this black colored eye paint which they also had green or likely malachite and we know from tactual evidence particularly this letter that only the highest quality galena was worthy of the pharaoh and if it did not achieve a certain level of quality it could be sent back and it’s this amazing document where the high priest is taking this man to task for not sending high quality enough galena for pharaoh’s eye paint did they have it was basically just black and green do they have any blue or anything like that or was it just inspired it’s interesting we know that the egyptians used both turquoise and lapis lazuli for jewelry so it is possible that either one could have been used in rare cases okay for makeup application but typically when we have lists of makeup it’s the “mesdemet” the galena or the kohl and it’s the “wadjet” which is the green the malachite okay interesting that would have been i guess i’m just geeking out about the makeup artist i like to know about the intensity of color would have been in a very intense green for the would have yeah it would have been more of a subtle green i wish we knew yeah i mean because what we have is we have the depictions of them right so it’s it would be amazing to go back in time and see what the makeup actually looked like that i think that the bust of nefertiti shows in a pretty accurate way a makeup a full makeup look from the 18th dynasty right normally other statuary has a stylized representation so did they really have eyeliner did they really have coal that was that strong yeah we can’t say yeah because that’s what they chose to commemorate in their art and a final question that i wanted to tackle was permanent skin enhancement oh which is tattooing yeah the oldest figural tattoos anywhere in the world are on an ancient egyptian natural mummy oh wow around on the face it’s on the shoulder okay yeah it’s on the shoulder so this is body adornment in general but no no no tattooed makeup as far as we can tell although there is a very large udjat eye that’s on one woman’s neck oh wow and we know of these tattoos because they survive on the skin of mummies oh wow that’s really interesting so they actually had a full jet eye on her neck yes wow and we know how they were doing that like the needles just over and over again in the skin with ink one assumes which charcoal with charcoal seems to be holy cow that must have been and that wasn’t jewelry i mean she has quite a number of tattoos this female mummy and this is a fairly recent discovery because of new photography techniques being able to capture the tattoos on mummies so we’ve known for a long time that mummies could have tattoos because you can see them visually very clearly just with the naked eye but with infrared photography we’re starting to capture more and more of those tattoo images oh wow because they’re obviously not unwrapping the mummy they can just photograph it through infrared photography these are bodies that are already unwrapped but then photographing the skin using the infrared spectrum wow you can pull that out that’s very cool i have no idea so that that you’re saying that is the earliest known tattoos basically the earliest figural tattoos that we can definitively trace and date are from the nile valley okay wow learning so much and did you want to talk about skin care in ancient egypt as well so the egyptians had quite a lot of oils and fats that they would have used for skin care now we don’t know anything chemically about sunblock we do have depictions from the early middle kingdom from the brain of manchester ii of a woman beneath a parasol oh so that was one option for uh skin care in ancient egypt in terms of blocking out the sun physically yeah which is great 1920s uh connection obviously and in other cases it was probably a whole range of very very expensive scented onions for the higher classes and then probably pretty simple animal fat used as a moisturizer for a much larger segment of the population okay i just i just don’t know how comfortable that was i can just imagine very hot climate and then putting animal fat on yourself i just buy small questions well okay small quantities and can obviously be mixed yeah oh so more like a moisturizer kind of that’s how i that’s how i’m imagining okay i just think i hear your animal fat i’m like crisco no no no no as a tiny ingredient as a binder exactly as opposed to something like an oil that was very expensive to produce okay and something i’ve always heard and you tell me if this is completely wrong is um of the putting the perfumed combs of wax on their head and it would melt and is that did that happen okay i’m so glad you mentioned that i did not want to end this before we discussed perfumed wax coats excellent and what is exciting about this is one was actually found on a mummified body oh wow in middle east so they were buried with them occasionally at least one person was wow so this was a debate up until this moment is are those perfumed or scented wax cones an artistic license or is this something that people did particularly during festivals during parties so not a wedding party but a funerary banquet the new year’s festival these times when people would come together and dine and feast and drink both beer and wine is that you would put one of these scented cones on your on top of your wig and as the night wore on it would melt and then you would have this nice scent oh wow emanating from your wig and that enhanced the festival atmosphere because myrrh incense in ancient egyptian is symmetry which literally means to make divine so by putting on that nice scent you are enhancing the entire experience because to burn incense in the temple is to literally make the god manifest wow that’s interesting i think that i wonder if their concept of smell was different than ours was because i think of a bunch of bodies being in a warm room and this warm temperature with the wax and the just everything happening and i wonder what to our modern day you know nose would that what would that smell like what would it be like to be in that room with all of those scents going on would be fascinating and everyone was sniffing lotuses oh my gosh there would have been a lot of smell a lot of flowers perfumed onions so it was potentially a very rich yes sensory environment yes and then the makeup and everything just the wigs and everything happening i can only only imagine what it was like wow well thank you so much for joining me michelle thank you for having me it was wonderful i learned so much there are so many questions left to answer so as john and i always say in our youtube videos here it’s going to be another episode so there’s an entire episode in cleopatra an entire episode on the religious significance i said we were going to get to hawthorne sadly we did not quite get to her but the goddess who is the patroness of makeup and cosmetics precisely because she is the goddess who personifies the eye of the sun but to really get into that concept we need a lot more of the background of her myth and how painting your eye was also an act of devotion and ritual i like that idea a lot so don’t forget to subscribe here on vintage egyptologist and then see the full 1920s makeup tutorial at my vintage love blog and we’ll see you in a future video