In ancient Egyptian art white represented purity and omnipotence. Many sacred animals (hippo, oxen and cows) were white. White clothing was worn during religious rituals and to “wear white sandals” was to be a priest. Many symbolic religious objects and tools were made of white alabaster, such as offering and libation vessels, canopic jars and even the embalming table.
White was also seen as the opposite of red, because of the latter’s association with rage and chaos, and so the two were often paired to represent completeness. The two crowns which were combined to form the dual crown were the white crown of Upper Egypt and the red crown of Lower Egypt.
The holy city of Memphis was originally known as “Ineb hedj” which is generally translated as “White Walls”, and white was the heraldic colour of Upper Egypt.
The word “hedj” represents both white and silver. Silver was very highly prized in Egypt, and fairly scarce. It was very popular in pharonic jewellery, when it was available, and was known as “white gold” (nub hedj). The white lotus was the symbol of the god Nefertum and statues of him were sometimes made of silver. Silver and gold together represented the moon and sun respectively.
Egyptian cotton was generally cream coloured, but white cloth was highly prized. In the Admonitions of Ipuwer the author shows how bad things have become by lamenting “None have white garments in this time”. White paint was made from chalk or gypsum which were plentiful in Egypt.
copyright J Hill 2010