Painting the Eyes

"Painting The Eyes,"

or rather the eyelids, is more than once alluded to in Scripture, although this scarcely appears in the Authorized Version, as our translators, unaware of the custone, usually render "eye" by "face," although eye is still preserved in the margin. So Jezebel "painted her eyes," literally "put her eyes in paint," before she showed herself publicly (2Ki 9:30). This action is forcibly expressed by Jeremiah (Jer 4:30), "Though thou rentest thine eyes with painting." Ezekiel (Eze 23:40) also represents this as a part of high dress: "For whom thou didst wash thyself, paintedst thy eyes, and deckedst thyself with ornaments." The custom is also, very possibly, alluded to in Pr 6:25: "Lust not after her beauty in thine heart, neither let her take thee with her eyelids." It certainly is the impression in Western Asia that this embellishment adds much to the languishing expression and seducement of the eyes, although Europeans find some difficulty in appreciating the beauty which the Orientals find in this adornment. (See Hartmann's Hebraerim, 2:149 sq.)

The following description of the process is from Lane's Modern Egyptians (1:41-43): "The eyes, with very few exceptions, are black, large, and of a long almond form, with long and beautiful lashes, and an exquisitely soft, bewitching expression: eyes more beautiful can hardly be conceived: their charming effect is much heightened by the concealment of the other features (however pleasing the latter may be), and is rendered still more striking by a practice universal among the females of the higher and middle classes, and very common among those of the lower orders, which is that of blackening the edge of the eyelids, both above and below the eyes, with a black powder called kohl. This is a collyrium, commonly composed of the smoke-black which is produced by burning a kind of libam — an aromatic resin — a species of frankincense, used, I am told, in preference to the better kind of frankincense, as being cheaper and equally good for the purpose. Kohl is also prepared of the smokeblack produced from burning the shells of almonds. These two kinds, though believed to be beneficial to the eyes, are used merely for ornament; but there are several kinds used for their real or supposed medical properties, particularly the powder of several kinds of lead ore, to which are often added sarcocolla, long pepper, sugar-candy, fine dust of a Venetian sequin, and sometimes powdered pearls. Antimony, it is said, was formerly used for painting the edges of the eyelids. The kohl is applied with a small probe of wood, ivory, or silver, tapering towards the end, bit blunt: this is moistened, sometimes with rose- water, then dipped in the powder and drawn along the edges of the eyelids: it is called mirwed; and the glass vessel in which the kohl is kept, mulholah. The custom of thus ornamenting the eyes prevailed among both sexes in Egypt in very ancient times: this is shown by the sculptures and paintings in the temples and tombs of this country; and kohl-vessels, with the probes, and even with the remains of the black powder, have often been found in the ancient tombs. I have two in my possession. But, in many cases, the ancient mode of ornamenting with the kohl was a little different from the modern. I have, however, seen this ancient mode practiced in the present day in the neighborhood of Cairo, though I only remember to have noticed it in two instances. The same custom existed among the Greek ladies, and among the Jewish women in early times." Sir J.G.Wilkinson alludes to this passage in Mr. Lane's book, and admits that the lengthened form of the ancient Egyptian eye, represented in the paintings, was'probably produced by this means. "Such," he adds, "is the effect described by Juvenal (Sat. 2:93), Pliny (Ep. 6:2), and other writers who notice the custom among the Romans. At Rome it was considered disgraceful for men to adopt it, as at present in [most parts of] the East, except medicinally; but, if we may judge from the similarity of the eyes of men and women in the paintings at Thebes, it appears to have been used by both sexes among the ancient Egyptians. Many of the kohl-bottles have been found in the tombs, together with the bodkin used for applying the moistened powder. They are of various materials, usually of stone, wood, or pottery; sometimes composed of two, sometimes of three or four separate cells, apparently containing each a mixture, differing slightly in its quality and hue from the other three. Many were simple round tubes, vases, or small boxes; some were ornamented with the figure of an ape or monster, supposed to assist in holding the bottle between his arms, while the lady dipped into it the pin with which she painted her eyes; and others were in imitation of a column made of stone, or rich porcelain of the choicest manufacture" (Ancient Egyptians, 3:382). SEE PAINT.

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