Flowers of all kinds were very popular in ancient Egypt, the most notable being the lotus and lily. Flowers were used as offerings in temples, to decorate mummies and as garlands in festivals. They were also used as motifs in temples, in homes, on furniture and jewellery. One of the most popular flowers was a flower with yellow centre and white petals. It is not entirely clear which species it is but it is usually thought to be chamomile or mayflower, a plant widely used by herbalists today. In some Egyptology books it is referred to as a daisy or rosette.
Rosettes are common in Egyptian art as early as the 1st Dynasty and are possibly a symbol of kingship. Whether or not these early rosettes are related to the later rosette which is more clearly a flower is debatable.
Faience inlays clearly resembling the chamomile or mayflower were produced for tiles and were very common in the 18th Dynasty (1550 – 1295 BC), particularly at Amarna, and the 20th Dynasty (1186 – 1069 BC). The flower also decorates chariots, sandals, chairs and boxes of Tutankhamun. The body and abdominal cavity of Rameses II had been anointed with chamomile oil (Manniche 1999, 115-116).
Here are just a few of the daisy related items from the Egypt Centre.
– Faience tiles such as these usually come from Tell el-Yahudiya and were very popular during the 20th Dynasty. This tile is probably from that site and may have been used to decorate the inside of buildings. For parallels see Friedman 1998, 197.
W1265– Faience tile fragment from Amarna. This tile would have originally contained faience daisy inlays. This tile was discovered in the 1935 excavations at the Great Palace in Amarna. See Freed, et al. 1999, fig. 97, for an example of a complete tile. For a Brooklyn Museum example see: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/3377
W798–Decorated painted wall plaster from Amarna with floral decoration. This is from the North Riverside Palace at Amarna and shows two mayflowers. Published by Weatherhead 2007, 230 and 229, fig. 123.
Chamomile flowers, like other flowers, seem to be symbols of rebirth and regeneration (Stevens 2006, 76-77 with further references).
Other items showing rosettes include:
Brovarski, E. Doll, S.K. and Freed, R. E. 1982. Egypt‘s Golden Age. The Art of Living in the New Kingdom. 1558-1085 BC. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts.
Freed, R. E., Markowitz, Y. J. and D’ Auria, S.H.,1999. Pharaohs of the Sun. Akhenaten, Nefertiti and Tutankhamun. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts.
Freidman, F.D. (ed.) 1998. Gifts of the Nile. Ancient Egyptian Faience. London: Thames and Hudson.
Hepper, F. N. 1990 Pharaoh’s Flowers: The Botanical Treasures of Tutankhamun, London: HMSO.
Lacovara, P. Trope, B. T. and D’Auria, B. 2001. The Collector’s Eye. Masterpieces of Egyptian Art from the Thalassic Collection, Ltd. Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum.
Manniche, L. 1999. Sacred Luxuries, London: Opus Publishing.
Stevens, A. 2006. Private Religion at Amarna. The Material Evidence. BAR International Series 1587. Oxford: Archeopress.
Weatherhead, F. 2007 Amarna Palace Painting, London: Egypt Exploration Society.