Dumbarton Oaks Microsite

Tunic Clavi

 
Accession numberBZ.1933.17a–b
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–8th c.
Measurements

(a) H. (weft) 62.6 cm × W. (warp) 5.7 cm (24 5/8 × 2 1/4 in.) (b) H. (weft) 62.2 cm × W. (warp) 5.7 cm (24 1/2 × 2 1/4 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Tano Collection, Cairo; Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, purchase (through Frances Morris), 1932; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.

This pair of fragmentary clavi is rendered in tapestry weave in beige, peach, red, crimson, orange, yellow, light green, green, dark green, light blue, blue, dark blue, blue-black, and light brown. The two fragments share a matching sequence of colorful vegetal, animal, and human figures. At the top of each clavi, a panel features a vase sprouting vines set atop a feline figure. The center of each clavi is filled with a full-length nimbed figure wearing jeweled garments and holding insignia. Below this person, a panel depicts a rabbit, vase, and feline. The medallions at bottom feature blue rabbits. A colorful, notched pattern runs along the edges of the clavus.

The shape of these fragments indicate they were once part of a tunic. Depictions of nimbed figures, as seen here, appear on dress textiles on clavi, sleeve bands, roundels and the lower borders of tunics. Some depict religious figures: Joseph and his brothers, Saul, John the Baptist, Mary, and Christ are just some examples of figures who appear in tapestry-woven garments, some of which feature identifiable narratives or even inscriptions identifying the individuals (see, for example, BZ.1940.45).There are numerous examples of these figural textiles which have been studied as groups with significant iconographic meanings. See, e.g., C. Nauerth, “Die Josefsgeschichte auf koptischen Stoffen,” Enchoria 8 (1978): 105–13; G. Vikan, “Joseph Iconography on Coptic Textiles,” Gesta 18, no. 1 (1979): 99–108; H. Maguire, “Garments Pleasing to God: The Significance of Domestic Textile Designs in the Early Byzantine Period,” DOP 44 (1990): 215–24; T. E. A. Dale, “The Power of the Anointed: The Life of David on Two Coptic Textiles in the Walters Art Gallery,” The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 51 (1993): 23–42; A. Paetz gen. Schieck, “Radiocarbon Dating on Nine Late Antique and Early Islamic Tapestry Weavings of Dionysian, Joseph and David-Cycle Design,” in Methods of Dating Ancient Textiles of the 1st Millennium AD from Egypt and Neighbouring Countries: Proceedings of the 4th Meeting of the Study Group “Textiles from the Nile Valley,” Antwerp, 16–17 April 2005, ed. A. De Moor and C. Fluck (Tielt, 2007), 167–77.

The figures of these clavi, in contrast, are not easily identifiable. Their gemstone-studded garments and impressive rods might associate them with allegories, city representations (Tyche), saints, or angels, though without an accompanying inscription it is difficult be certain.S. Schrenk, Textilien aus spätantiker bis frühislamischer Zeit (Riggisberg, 2004), 238, suggests the clavi may depict allegories or Tyche; p. 242 includes a discussion of possible angel iconography. They may have been meant to emulate silk textiles featuring standing imperial figures set in stacked frames.A pair of clavi in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, Berlin (9270) feature women in imperial dress and hunting figures in stacked layout: O. Wulff and W. F. Volbach, Spätantike und koptische Stoffe aus ägyptischen Grabfunden in den Staatlichen Museen, Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, Ägyptisches Museum, Schliemann-Sammlung (Berlin, 1926), 147, plate 133. A two-tone silk band in the Musée des Tissus, Lyon (inv. 910.III.1 [29.254]) features standing figures holding crosses and spears: M. Martiniani-Reber, Lyon, Musée Historique des Tissus: Soieries sassanides, coptes et byzantines, Ve–XIe siècles (Paris, 1986), 91–93, no. 75.

Many dress textiles with Christian scenes demonstrate unusual deformations of design: for example, the feet of the figures in these clavi have come to resemble hooves or floral patterns. In other cases, the design or accompanying inscriptions have degraded to such a degree that it is difficult to discern precise iconography or meaning. These shifts may indicate that precision in motifs was lost as an original concept was continuously copied over time. A tunic in London features the Arabic inscription “Allāh” and nimbed figures points to the popularity of this iconography well into the medieval period.London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 291-1891, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O119593/tunic-unknown. A carbon-dated example in Paris depicting a nimbed female figure wearing elegant, gem-studded garb indeed dates from the late seventh to the ninth century, supporting the idea these motifs were copied over many centuries.Paris, Musée du Louvre, AF 5536; information taken from publicly available results published on “Textile Dates” database, Abteilung Christliche Archäologie, Universität Bonn, http://ww.textile-dates.info/textile_list_start.php?textile_id=542.

—Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, May 2019

 

Notes

Accession numberBZ.1933.17a–b
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–8th c.
Measurements

(a) H. (weft) 62.6 cm × W. (warp) 5.7 cm (24 5/8 × 2 1/4 in.) (b) H. (weft) 62.2 cm × W. (warp) 5.7 cm (24 1/2 × 2 1/4 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Tano Collection, Cairo; Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, purchase (through Frances Morris), 1932; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.

F. Morris, “Catalogue of Textile Fabrics, The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection” (unpublished catalogue, Washington, DC, 1940), 185.

D. Thompson, “Catalogue of the Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection” (unpublished catalogue, Washington, DC, 1976), no. 76.

Accession numberBZ.1933.17a–b
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–8th c.
Measurements

(a) H. (weft) 62.6 cm × W. (warp) 5.7 cm (24 5/8 × 2 1/4 in.) (b) H. (weft) 62.2 cm × W. (warp) 5.7 cm (24 1/2 × 2 1/4 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Tano Collection, Cairo; Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, purchase (through Frances Morris), 1932; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.