Dumbarton Oaks Microsite

Fragments of a Hanging with Nereid

 
Accession numberBZ.1934.2
Attribution and Date
Egypt?, ca. 5th–6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 58.0 cm × W. (weft) 50.0 cm (22 13/16 × 19 11/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Paul and Marguerite Mallon, Paris; Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks, purchase, 1934; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.

Detailed dimensions

Height: 58.0 cm (warp direction)

Width: 50.0 cm (weft direction)

Height of border with pomegranates: 12.5 cm

Height of Nereid head from chin to hairline: 7.0 cm

 

Materials

Red ground:

Warp: Wool, single spun S-direction (S), 10/cm; pinkish orange

Weft: Wool, single spun S-direction (S), 11–12/cm; red

 

Tapestry weave:

Warp: Wool, single spun S-direction (S), 10–13/cm; pinkish-orange

Weft: Wool, single spun S-direction (S), 36–64/cm; beige, yellow, red, pink, purple, blue, green. Linen, single spun S-direction (S), 32-38/cm; undyed.

 

Technique

Tapestry weave

 

Discussion

This reconstructed fragment of a hanging is composed of numerous, mostly small, pieces woven in tapestry weave. The pinkish-orange wool warp is partially exposed, giving a reddish appearance to the textile and adding to the subtle, deep red tone of the ground. Color junctures are achieved with short slits and dovetailing; non-horizontal wefts shape contours. In addition, irregular hatching can be observed in some small areas, such as in the bodies of the birds. Combining fibers of various colors further enriched the color palette: For example, the purplish-grey weft in the right bird consists of pink, blue, and purplish fibers, and the light blue weft of beige and light blue fibers; undyed linen was used for small accents, such as the pomegranates of the border.

Based on iconography, style, weave structure, the materials used, warp and weft count, and color palette (including the blending of fibers), it is possible that these fragments can be associated with BZ.1932.1. The size of the Nereid’s heads is comparable, and the weave structure of the area to the left side of the figure’s head is rendered similarly to the billowing cloths of the Nereid’s in BZ.1932.1. The border also shows similarities: For example in the overall color scheme, the color blending in the purplish-grey and green birds, and the use of linen weft in the pomegranate details. However, the border design also displays significant discrepancies, including in scale and color sequence. One other technical difference is that in BZ.1934.2, the use of supplementary weft is limited to the legs of the birds; in BZ.1932.1, it is also used to separate the vignettes of the acanthus leaves. While these observations are important, they are not sufficient evidence to conclude that BZ.1934.2 and BZ.1932.1 originated from the same hanging (see further discussion in the art historical section).

 

Condition

The textile consists of fragments assembled from a larger composition. The edges of the fragments are fragile. There is warp and weft loss throughout. The color preservation is compromised.

 

Conservation history

Stitched to a fabric-covered stretcher frame (unknown date); backing replaced (2002)

 

—Kathrin Colburn, August 2019

 
Accession numberBZ.1934.2
Attribution and Date
Egypt?, ca. 5th–6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 58.0 cm × W. (weft) 50.0 cm (22 13/16 × 19 11/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Paul and Marguerite Mallon, Paris; Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks, purchase, 1934; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.

On a deep red background, the head, right shoulder, and left hand of a dark-haired female figure have survived. She appears in three-quarter profile looking to the right toward her hand, which is extended in front of her at some distance. Her mouth seems to be slightly opened. With her hand she presents a wreath with a large precious stone embedded in the middle of the right side, with two pearls, one on either side of the stone. The figure herself is adorned with jewelry: she wears large pearl earrings that appear to be swinging forward, and a bracelet is visible just below her surviving hand, where her wrist would be. Her black hair turns violet at the end of some curls. The figure’s mantle expands immediately behind her head, resembling a halo. The fluttering end underneath and to the left of her shoulder, however, confirms the identification of this detail as a mantle cloth. Remains of a border appear in two fragments, featuring leaves interspersed with birds and a vessel. Another group of small fragments, positioned below the wreath, preserves what appears to be an eye looking to the left. The skin surrounding the eye is of the same color as the Nereid’s face.

This fragment is closely related in iconography and style to Dumbarton Oaks BZ.1932.1. It is uncertain whether this fragment originally belonged to the same textile, however. Comparing the measurements of their details at first seems to be an easy way to answer this question. However, the deviations are such that they do not allow for a clear conclusion. The heads of the Nereids in the present textile and in BZ.1932.1 are approximately the same size. By contrast, the width of the inner borders differs between the two fragments. On the present textile, what must have been the horizontal border measures 12.5 cm, compared to the vertical and upper horizontal borders on BZ.1932.1, which measure 14.0 and 17.0 cm, respectively. However, one characteristic of tapestries is that corresponding motifs are never identical, so the respective sizes of such details cannot be considered reliable criteria for determining whether fragments actually belong together.

However, there is one detail that suggests that these two sets of fragments come from different hangings: the acanthus leaves in the border of BZ.1934.2 alternate in color, while those in BZ.1932.1 are consistent in color. Yet another iconographic detail, in contrast, is surprisingly identical in both pieces: the appearance and position of the earrings worn by the two Nereids looking right. This could, however, indicate that the same workshop was responsible for both pieces; it does not prove they came from the same textile.

The style of the figures does not supply us with clear evidence for or against both pieces coming from one wall hanging. The faces are virtually identical in their shape and in the design of the facial features. This is also true for the way the curls are arranged on the shoulders, whereas the mass of hair gathered atop the head varies a little. But does this indicate the same hanging or “just” the same workshop?

—Sabine Schrenk, March 2020

 

Notes

Accession numberBZ.1934.2
Attribution and Date
Egypt?, ca. 5th–6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 58.0 cm × W. (weft) 50.0 cm (22 13/16 × 19 11/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Paul and Marguerite Mallon, Paris; Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks, purchase, 1934; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.

Worcester, MA, Worcester Art Museum, Art of the Dark Ages, February 20–March 21, 1937.

Hartford, CT, Wadsworth Atheneum, 2000 Years of Tapestry Weaving, December 7, 1951–January 27, 1952.

Baltimore, MD, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 2000 Years of Tapestry Weaving, February 27–March 25, 1952.

Accession numberBZ.1934.2
Attribution and Date
Egypt?, ca. 5th–6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 58.0 cm × W. (weft) 50.0 cm (22 13/16 × 19 11/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Paul and Marguerite Mallon, Paris; Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks, purchase, 1934; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.

The Dark Ages: Loan Exhibition of Pagan and Christian Art in the Latin West and Byzantine East (Worcester, MA, 1937), 46, no. 139.

F. Morris, “Catalogue of Textile Fabrics, The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection” (unpublished catalogue, Washington, DC, 1940), 29.

Two Thousand Years of Tapestry Weaving (Hartford, CT, 1951), no. 6.

A. C. Weibel, Two Thousand Years of Textiles: The Figured Textiles of Europe and the Near East (New York, 1952), no. 4.      

Dumbarton Oaks, The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University: Handbook (Washington, DC, 1955), 154, no. 299.

Dumbarton Oaks, Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, DC, 1967), 107, no. 362.

D. Thompson,  “Catalogue of Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection” (unpublished catalogue, Washington, DC, 1976), no. 50.

D. Thompson, “New Technical and Iconographical Observations about Important Coptic Hangings with Marine and Hunting Themes (1),” BullCIETA 54, no. 2 (1981): 63–81; fig. 3.

Accession numberBZ.1934.2
Attribution and Date
Egypt?, ca. 5th–6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 58.0 cm × W. (weft) 50.0 cm (22 13/16 × 19 11/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Paul and Marguerite Mallon, Paris; Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks, purchase, 1934; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.