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About the Project

A History of Collecting Textiles at Dumbarton Oaks | A Digital Publication | Acknowledgments | Contributors | How to Cite

Although Dumbarton Oaks has a long history of collecting and researching textiles, its holdings of Byzantine and early Islamic fabrics have never been systematically published. In producing this catalogue, we look back on the legacy of the Dumbarton Oaks’ collections and our institution’s mission to publish the complete holdings of the Byzantine Collection. At the same time, however, we look forward to the possibilities of digital cataloguing formats in making scholarly research and publications timely, accessible, and connective.

 

A History of Collecting Textiles at Dumbarton Oaks

Dumbarton Oaks’ collection of approximately 260 textiles has long been known to scholars for their quality and rarity.For more information about the collecting history at Dumbarton Oaks, see G. Bühl and E. Williams, “Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection: Past Studies and Future Directions,” in Textiles, Tools and Techniques: Proceedings of the 8th Conference of the Research Group “Textiles from the Nile Valley,” Antwerp, 4–6 October 2013, ed. A. De Moor, C. Fluck, and P. Linscheid (Tielt, 2015), 62–69; E. D. Williams, “Minor Art, Major Works: An Overview of Dumbarton Oaks’ Collections of Late Antique and Medieval Textiles,” in Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity, ed. T. K. Thomas (Princeton, NJ, 2016), 104–15.

It could be argued that a passion for collecting textiles started with Mildred Bliss herself, who acquired velvets and tapestries from her youth. Beginning in the late 1920s, however, the Blisses also pursued impressive, large-format furnishing textiles. Most notable were purchases of hangings depicting Nereids (BZ.1932.1 and BZ.1934.2), a hanging depicting a boar hunt (BZ.1937.14), a large hanging with a horse and lion (BZ.1939.13), and a fragment of a textile with a jeweled trellis (BZ.1946.1). These were acquired from the most prestigious American and European dealers—including Dikran Kelekian, Kalebdjian Frères, and Paul and Marguerite Mallon—the same individuals who provided textiles to other major institutions and collectors, most notably George Hewitt Myers and the Textile Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But perhaps the most spectacular acquisition during these early years was the hanging depicting Hestia Polyolbus (BZ.1929.1), which the Blisses purchased in New York from Kelekian in June 1929. The textile was sent to Paris soon after acquisition to be included in the Exposition internationale d’art byzantin, one of the earliest major loan exhibitions of Byzantine art. There it figured prominently in a gallery alongside other objects in an array of media, many of which later came to be seen as canonical in the field.

Textiles indeed represent some of the most important early acquisitions for the Byzantine collection in the 1920s and 1930s. In addition to large-scale furnishing fabrics, the Blisses also acquired numerous smaller, fragmentary pieces, many of which would today be classified as “Islamic.” For example, they acquired numerous Persian silks, said to come from Rayy, as well as a significant collection of ṭirāz textiles. Many of these smaller pieces were acquired on behalf of the Blisses by the pioneering curator Frances Morris, who appears to have acquired the pieces directly from Egypt through the Cairo-based dealer Tano (BZ.1933.1–39).

Textile acquisitions continued after the transfer of Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University in 1940, in a mix of purchases and gifts. A donation of 125 textiles in 1953 comprises nearly half of Dumbarton Oaks’ collection (BZ.1953.2.1–125). Collected by Ethel Willard Sperry Crocker (1861–1934), the textiles were gifted by Ethel Mary Crocker de Limur (1891–1964), after spending some decades on loan to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). There they were occasionally put display alongside modern art and were lent as part of a traveling exhibition to small towns in the western part of the United States in the years immediately before they were gifted to Dumbarton Oaks.

A significant number of textiles now at Dumbarton Oaks were once part of the collections of notable medieval art historians and textile specialists. For example, a group of textiles were gifted from the estates of Louisa Bellinger (1900–1968) (BZ.1969.61a,b,c) and of Henri Focillon (1881–1943) (BZ.1949.10). Another significant group of textiles arrived at Dumbarton Oaks in the 1970s from the collection of Royall Tyler (BZ. 1972.2–20; BZ.1973.32–41; BZ.1977.2), who had organized the Exposition internationale d’art byzantin and authored an early textbook on Byzantine art history. More recently, Dumbarton Oaks acquired a textile on the art market that had been in the personal holdings of Theodore Graf (1840–1903) (BZ.2010.070).

 

A Digital Publication

Our born-digital publication follows the best practices of museum cataloguing as outlined by the Getty Online Scholarly Cataloguing Initiative. We imagine our publication as a growing resource, one which draws on all the strengths of the digital medium to make research broadly and freely accessible.

Our catalogue will feature all our textiles, starting with our collection of late antique Egyptian textiles. Each entry features high-resolution photography, archival photography where applicable, art-historical analyses, and full exhibition history, bibliography, and provenance information. The most important pieces also feature technical analyses to give a grounding in the material aspects of the textiles. We will add our smaller collection of post-Byzantine, ṭirāz, and Islamic textiles to this initial group in the coming months.

The essays build on work presented at the 2015 museum conference, “Liminal Fabric: Furnishing Textiles in Byzantium and Early Islam,” which focused on furnishing textiles in Byzantium and Early Islam. An introduction to the essays that provides context for the content and findings can be found under that tab.

 

Acknowledgments

Our catalogue and essays are the result of many years of collegial collaborations, both in Dumbarton Oaks and beyond. We thank firstly Jan Ziolkowski, Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Medieval Latin and Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, for supporting this initiative from its start, and encouraging us in all our endeavors. Kathleen Sparkes, Director of Publications, and her team were instrumental in seeing the essays through editing and offered constant feedback as we explored the possibilities of the digital medium. Joel Kalvesmaki stepped in to ensure our editorial process went smoothly; Shannon Wearing was our fearless copyeditor. Lain Wilson worked tirelessly to ensure the beautiful platform you see and took on the daunting tasks of coordinating peer review and editing with equanimity.

In the Museum Department, we are grateful for assistance from Joni Joseph, Collections Manager and Assistant Registrar, who helped provide access to archival materials integral to our work. The fellow curatorial staff encouraged our research on textiles in the galleries and storerooms, particularly Juan Antonio Murro, Assistant Curator, Pre-Columbian Collection, and Jonathan Shea, Assistant Curator, Byzantine Coins and Seals. We especially thank Joe Mills, who worked closely with us to ensure the photographs were of highest quality.

We want to acknowledge the work of Arielle Winnik and Alexandra Walsh, interns on our project, who assisted in verifying bibliography, checking objects, and providing logistical support early on in the project. Rebecca Rosen, Erica Eisen and Katie Polik came on to the project with gusto as Humanities Fellows, deftly managing their split responsibilities between Dumbarton Oaks and the Textile Museum. Erica Eisen in particular was essential in organizing the entries and carefully going through the descriptions of the textiles. Kelsey Eldridge and Samuel Shapiro helped enormously in the final preparations of the texts for submission.  

The successful publication of our project would not have been possible without the concerted efforts of Dumbarton Oaks staff. In the Library, we thank Daniel Boomhower, Director of Library, as well as his entire staff. Ingrid Gibson, Sarah Mackowski, Joshua Robinson, Toni Stephens, and Alyson Williams have been diligent in tracking down books of all sorts and we appreciate their patience when we returned books late. In the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Bettina Smith, Manager, and her team were generous in providing access to resources there, sometimes at late notice. In the Director’s Office, we thank in particular Yota Batsaki, Executive Director, a source of thoughtful advice at all times. We acknowledge also the efforts of former staff, including James Carder, Jessica Cebra, John Hanson, Konstantina Karterouli, Margaret Mullet, Deb Brown Stewart, Rona Razon, Shalimar White, and Marta Zlotnick, all of whom showed unending curiosity in our project and in the textiles.

Through the years, we have enjoyed enormously the scholarly camaraderie of numerous textile specialists and outside parties. At National Geographic Society, we thank Jeff Thomas and his team for their help in making archival scans. The Textiles in the Nile Valley Group, led by Antoine de Moor, Cäcilia Fluck, and Petra Linscheid, made us feel included at every gathering. We enjoyed the counsel of numerous scholars and friends of Dumbarton Oaks, including Elizabeth Bolman, Henry Maguire, Bob Ousterhout, and Alice-Mary Talbot. Our essays benefited from the work of anonymous peer reviewers. We wish to particularly thank Ioli Kalavrezou, Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine Art History at Dumbarton Oaks, who has long supported our efforts.

Lastly, we wish to thank the scholars whose work we showcase here: Karthika Audinet, Jennifer C. Ball, Maria Evangelatou, Helen C. Evans, Cäcilia Fluck, Kostis Kourelis, Sumru Belger Krody, Eunice Maguire, Maria Parani, Brandie Ratliff, Sabine Schrenk, Avinoam Shalem, and Thelma K. Thomas. In particular, Kathrin Colburn, Conservator in Textile Conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has been unstinting in taking on our textiles and we owe her enormously for teaching us how to really see textiles. We have learned so much from you, and we are grateful for your contributions. 

Gudrun Bühl and Elizabeth Dospěl Williams
May 2019

 

Contributors

  • Karthika Audinet, Textile Designer, CEO and Founder, Designers and Artisans; Creative Director, St. Coletta of Greater Washington, Washington, DC
  • Jennifer L. Ball, Associate Professor of Art History, Art Department, Brooklyn College
  • Gudrun Bühl, Director, Museum für Lackkunst, Münster
  • Kathrin Colburn, Conservator, Department of Textile Conservation, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • Maria Evangelatou, Associate Professor, History of Art and Visual Culture, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Helen C. Evans, Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator of Byzantine Art, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • Cäcilia Fluck, Curator, Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Kostis Kourelis, Associate Professor of Art History, Department of Art and Art History, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster
  • Sumru Belger Krody, Senior Curator, the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, Washington, DC
  • Eunice Dauterman Maguire
  • Maria G. Parani, Associate Professor, Department of History and Archaeology, University of Cyprus
  • Brandie Ratliff, Director, Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art & Culture, Hellenic College Holy Cross, Brookline, MA
  • Sabine Schrenk, Professor, Abteilung Christliche Archäologie, Universität Bonn
  • Avinoam Shalem, Riggio Professor of the History of the Arts of Islam, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University, New York
  • Thelma K. Thomas, Associate Professor of Fine Arts, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
  • Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, Assistant Curator, Byzantine Collection, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC
  • Meredyth Winter, PhD Candidate in History of Art and Architecture and Middle East Studies, Harvard University

 

How to Cite

Cite this work as: Gudrun Bühl and Elizabeth Dospel Williams, eds., Catalogue of the Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection (Washington, DC, 2019), https://www.doaks.org/resources/textiles.

Cite essays as: Author, “Title,” in Catalogue of the Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection, ed. Gudrun Bühl and Elizabeth Dospěl Williams (Washington, DC, 2019), URL.

Example: Jennifer L. Ball, “Rich Interiors: The Remnant of a Hanging from Late Antique Egypt in the Collection of Dumbarton Oaks,” in Catalogue of the Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection, ed. Gudrun Bühl and Elizabeth Dospěl Williams (Washington, DC, 2019), https://www.doaks.org/resources/textiles/essays/ball.

Cite catalogue entries as: Author, “Title, accession number,” art historical or technical analysis, date, in Catalogue of the Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection, ed. Gudrun Bühl and Elizabeth Dospěl Williams (Washington, DC, 2019), URL.

Example 1: Thelma K. Thomas, “Fragment of a Hanging with Two Hunters, BZ.1937.14,” catalogue entry, May 2019, in Catalogue of the Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection, ed. Gudrun Bühl and Elizabeth Dospěl Williams (Washington, DC, 2019), https://www.doaks.org/resources/textiles/catalogue/BZ.1937.14.

Example 2: Kathrin Colburn, “Fragment of a Hanging with Two Hunters, BZ.1937.14,” technical analysis, July 2019, in Catalogue of the Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection, ed. Gudrun Bühl and Elizabeth Dospěl Williams (Washington, DC, 2019), https://www.doaks.org/resources/textiles/catalogue/BZ.1937.14.