This charming ring features the figure of a squatting frog perched on the bezel. The frog is realistically carved and modelled, with incised elements delineating its anatomy. The sides of the bezel are also incised with a cross-hatched design. The frog’s position and pose on the top of the ring gives the impression that the creature is about to leap forward; it is an eye-catching design, which would have no doubt attracted attention for the wearer. It is made using ‘Egyptian blue’, a vibrant blue pigment, considered to be the first synthetically-produced pigment, composed of quartz sand, a copper compound, and calcium carbonate. The colour blue was highly prized in ancient Egypt and the creation of a synthetic pigment allowed artists to produce imitations of the precious stones lapis lazuli and turquoise, which were expensive and not always readily accessible. After the Roman period, Egyptian blue fell out of use and the original method of its manufacture was considered lost.
The image of the frog symbolized fertility and abundance, since it was associated with the annual flooding of the Nile, during which time thousands of frogs would emerge along the banks of the river. The Egyptians most commonly referred to the frog by the onomatopoeic word ‘kerer’, after their noisy croaking sound. The frog was also a manifestation of the deity Heqet, goddess of fertility and childbirth. It was thought that she could also help to induce labour and to offer protection during labour, on account of which pregnant women wore amulets depicting Heqet, and during the Middle Kingdom, ritual ivory knives and clappers inscribed with her name were used to ward off evil during childbirth. Rings featuring frog figures, such as the present, were worn by women particularly during the New Kingdom.
Although the frog is most often associated with the goddess Heqet, Egyptian frog iconography is in fact part of a much longer tradition. It is one of the earliest creatures known to be worn in the form of an amulet in the Predynastic Period (before 3100 BC). Frog spawn in particular had resonance with Egyptian beliefs about regeneration, and the hieroglyph of a tadpole was used to write the number ‘100,000’, in reference to the large numbers of offspring they produced.
A similar ring in carnelian featuring a frog atop the bezel is in the collection of the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (inv. 42.1470), circa 1550-1279 BCE (New Kingdom, eighteenth to early nineteenth dynasty), and a faience example dating from the reign of Amenhotep III is displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, (inv. no. 11.215.121, circa 1390-1353 BC). An amulet of a frog in lapis lazuli is also in the Metropolitan Museum (inv. 04.2.378, Late Period, circa 664-332 BC).
On the long tradition of the frog cult, E. A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians: Or, Studies in Egyptian Mythology vol. 2 (London, 1904), p. 378
On the role of amulets in ancient Egyptian civilization, A. K. Capel and G. Markoe, Mistress of the House, Mistress of Heaven: Women in Ancient Egypt (New York, 1996), pp. 70-74.
New York Collection, 1980s.
Alexander, NY 1993.