Alabaster is a fine-grained, massive, translucent
variety of gypsum, a hydrous calcium sulphate.
Alabaster occurs naturally in many shades of
color, from pure white to reddish-tan. Like all
other forms of gypsum, alabaster forms by the
evaporation of bedded deposits that are
precipitated mainly from evaporating seawater.
Indigenous to Egypt, alabaster has been quarried
for more than seven thousand years from a
source just a few miles behind the Valley of the
Kings in ancient Thebes. This stone was prized
by the pharaohs for its luminous properties.
When held up to the light, the stone absorbs the
glow and spreads it evenly throughout its
structure, becoming almost translucent if carved
thinly enough. The Ancient Egyptians used this
wonderful material for many purposes, including
household items, ritual objects, and for a number
of different funerary uses such as sarcophagi and
Amenhotep II, also known by his Greek name
Amenhophis, is believed to have been the
seventh ruler of the 18th Dynasty. Although he is
sometimes overshadowed by his father
Tuthmosis III, with whom he may have served a
co-regency as short as two years, his reign is
considered to be pivotal by Egyptologists. As a
young man, he was noted for his athletic
prowess. One particular achievement, his
legendary ability to shoot arrows through a
copper plate while simultaneously steering a
chariot, was recorded in numerous inscriptions
including those at Giza and Thebes.
His athleticism certainly would have aided the
young pharaoh on the battlefield, for his
leadership was tested early on in his reign.
Although the precise details are contested, it is
clear that the Mediterranean ports of Syria
rebelled shortly after hearing the news of his
father’s death. Amenhotep led a campaign that
reclaimed the lands across the Orontes River and
secured his place as the rightful ruler of Egypt.
With peace well established early on in his reign,
the pharaoh embarked on an impressive building
program, finishing the monuments and temples
begun under his father as well as starting several
of his own. Foremost among these constructions
are the Temple of Horemakhet in Giza and the
temple complex at Karnak.
This magnificent alabaster amphora with two
handles features the royal cartouche of
Amenhotep II prominently carved onto the front
of the body and highlighted with blue pigment.
Clearly this vessel was once closely associated
with this great pharaoh. Perhaps it was
presented to him as a gift in order to secure his
favor. Perhaps he commissioned it himself and
presented it to a victorious general as a symbol
of his gratitude. Regardless, the luxurious nature
of the alabaster and the refinement of the
carving indicate that this amphora was clearly fit
for a king.