Cosmetic container

Accession Number
Current Location
House of Death (ground floor), Domestic piety case
Object Type
Implements and utensils, Cosmetic and medical equipment and implements, Kohl, Kohl pot
New Kingdom
Eighteenth Dynasty
Amenhotep III to Tutankhamun
Height: 116mm | Width: 52mm | Depth: 32mm
Number of Elements
Divine Name

This image may be used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. For uses not covered under the Creative Commons license, or to license images for commercial uses, please contact the Egypt Centre.


A wooden cosmetic container in the form of a standing figure of the god Bes, shown with leonine features, wearing a wig and short kilt. His arms are slightly bent at elbows, with hands resting on his thighs. There is a cylindrical hollow drilled down from the top of the head to contain cosmetics. Originally covered by a lid, which is now missing. A small hole is present where the attachment of the lid once fitted. It was dated by Gay Robins to the period between the reign of Amenhotep III and Tutankhamun (Robins 1995, 22). On long-term loan since 2005 from the British Museum who acquired it from the collection of Henry Salt in 1821. The term 'Bes' is applied to a number of deities from the Middle Kingdom onwards. These deities tend to have leonine features and were connected with the sun-god. They also seem to have protected women and children. Quite why such a container should have the image of a protective deity is unclear. Others Bes containers are known, particularly from the Late Period. Perhaps the container held ointment for a mother or baby. It is also possible that this container contained eye makeup for the mother, which would be applied shortly after birth, perhaps as a ritual. Ostraca from Deir el-Medina show nursing mothers having their hair done in a special pavilion and often a mirror is shown in the scene. This was possibly part of a ritual return to society. Eye makeup had a protective function and it is possible that cosmetics from a Bes container were particularly effective. Alternatively, since Bes is associated with female sexuality, or at least fertility, as is beatification, perhaps we should not be surprised that he appears on this container. He is often depicted on the handles of mirrors or on spoons that held cosmetics.


Goodridge, Wendy R. & Stuart J. Williams 2005. Offerings from The British Museum. Swansea: The Egypt Centre. [p. 16] Robins, Gay 1995. Reflections of women in the New Kingdom. Ancient Egyptian art from The British Museum, 4 February–14 May 1995. Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. [nr 53, pp. 10, 16, 22] Stevens, Anna 2006. Private religion at Amarna: the material evidence. BAR International Series 1587. Oxford: Archaeopress.