Dumbarton Oaks Microsite

Fragment of a Hanging with Horses and Lions

 
Accession numberBZ.1939.13
Attribution and Date
Eastern Mediterranean, ca. 6th or 7th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 166.5 cm × W. (weft) 80.0 cm (65 9/16 × 31 1/2 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Kalebdjian Frères, Paris; Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks, purchase, 1939; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.

Detailed dimensions

Height: 166.5 cm (warp direction)

Width: 80.0 cm (weft direction)

Width of entire border (from outer purple to inner yellow bands): 24.0 cm

Width of inside border with roundels: 14.0 cm

Width of innermost borders with scalloped design: 3.5 cm

Width of inner yellow band: 1.5 cm

Width of outer purple band: 1.5 cm

 

Materials

Warp: Wool, single spun S-direction (S), 9–11/cm; purple

Weft: Wool, single spun S-direction (S), 18–40/cm; red, orange, pink, peach, purple, blue, green, beige. Linen, single spun S-direction (S), 24–28/cm; undyed (bleached?).

 

Technique

Tapestry weave

 

Discussion

This textile is a reconstruction composed of fragments of various sizes. While at first appearance, the rapport of the design appears coherent, a closer look reveals discrepancies in the alignment of the repeating pattern. This is the result of a previous reconstruction campaign (see further discussion in art historical section). However, the overall impression of the original design is preserved in the current configuration.

The textile was woven in tapestry weave with colored wool weft on a purple-colored wool warp. The warp is partially exposed, creating a “speckled” effect, which is most apparent in the light-colored areas of the weaving. Overall, the purple warp gives a grainy and pixelated quality to the complex composition. In contrast, purple weft woven into purple warp creates a deep, solid background against which the design stands out.

Combining different colored fibers enriched the color palette: the purple wool warp and weft are composed of purple, pink, and blue fibers combined, and the green weft is a combination of green and yellow fibers. Areas woven with undyed linen weft, which might be bleached, create bold highlights in the overall composition.

Color junctures were achieved with short slits and dovetailing; non-horizontal wefts shape contours. Supplementary weft appears sparingly in the green stems of the small red, pink, and white heart-shaped blossoms located in the central field. To weave some of the birds’ bodies, green and blue wool weft were placed into the same shed.

The outer purple band in the current configuration may be the outer edge of the hanging. Only a small fragment of this band is continuous to the rest of the border.

 

Condition

This weaving is composed of fragments of various sizes. The surface is worn; there is warp and weft loss, discoloration and staining throughout. The edges are fragile, and the color preservation of the wool weft is compromised.

 

Conservation history

Repaired (1940); cleaned, blocked, and remounted with rearrangements of the fragments (1976)

 

—Kathrin Colburn, July 2019

 
Accession numberBZ.1939.13
Attribution and Date
Eastern Mediterranean, ca. 6th or 7th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 166.5 cm × W. (weft) 80.0 cm (65 9/16 × 31 1/2 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Kalebdjian Frères, Paris; Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks, purchase, 1939; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.

This very large tapestry-woven cloth is fairly lightweight and, although it is fragile and fragmentary, the surface has not been abraded: it must have been used as a hanging (in front of a wall or as a curtain) rather than a covering for furniture or the floor. Crudely executed, irregular joins of tapestry sections, especially in the borders, are the result of the first of two phases of restoration work (see archival photographs). Some pieces were removed when the piece was restored again upon acquisition by Dumbarton Oaks.E. Kitzinger, “The Horse and Lion Tapestry at Dumbarton Oaks: A Study in Coptic and Sassanian Design,” DOP 3 (1946): 4. Kitzinger provided a meticulous and thorough description of the piece, noting compositional disruptions made by the two phases of restorations (4–6). Originally, the hanging would have been appreciably larger. See technical analysis for a discussion of these restorations.

In the main, inner field is a Persianate design of rows of a fantastical chalice motif from which emerge pairs of lions and, in alternate rows, pairs of horses.On a late antique Persian “vogue,” and Persianate motifs in the mosaics of Antioch (and late antique art more generally), see A. Gonosová, “Exotic Taste: The Lure of Sasanian Persia,” in Antioch: The Lost Ancient City, ed. C. Kondoleon (Princeton, 2000) 130–33; reprinted in Late Antique and Medieval Art of the Mediterranean World, ed. E. R. Hoffman (Malden, MA, 2007) 40–46. Each facing pair of addorsed beasts—the forelegs raised, and their eyes red-veined and bulging—seems poised to attack so that the space between them is charged with imminent violence.Kitzinger, “Horse and Lion Tapestry,” 25, remarked upon this distinctive “element of drama.” Yet, filling that space is a slender stem with flower head above and below. This fanciful two-headed flower emerges from a chalice that sits atop a thicker stem growing from symmetrically spreading whorls of green acanthus foliage. The acanthus grows from an improbably small, triangular red vase. Two kinds of flowers blossom from the acanthus plant—a daisy shape above the scrolling leaves, while a palmate shape is enclosed within them. Small rosettes float between the acanthus plants and between the chalices. Within the outline of each chalice is a pair of addorsed birds, their heads turned back so that they face each other and the smaller chalice between them. The smaller chalice is filled with variously colored round fruits or flowers.

Color patterning in the main, inner field emphasizes the horizontal registration of the composition, and seems to emulate the color-banding effect of many compound weaves, such as the Dumbarton Oaks lion-strangler silk (BZ.1934.1), which may be later than this tapestry.Compound silks with pronounced color-banding date back to antiquity and continue throughout the medieval era. Examples have been found all along the silk routes from East Asia to Mediterranean regions: M. Schoeser, Silk (New Haven, 2007), 22–29, illustrates a wide range of examples; V. Mair, ed., Secrets of the Silk Road: An Exhibition of Discoveries from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China (Santa Ana, CA, 2010), presents such silks within the broader historical and archaeological context of the Tarim Basin in eastern Central Asia, an important area for the networks of trade routes crossing Eurasia. In a striking juxtaposition, the multipart border that survives only along the right vertical edge employs a different, expanded color scheme.Kitzinger (“Horse and Lion Tapestry,” 7) wrote that “it is not even proved that field and border come from one and the same hanging,” but he was ultimately persuaded by comparison of material and technique. See also p. 9 and, for comparanda, pp. 43–44.

The innermost yellow frame contrasts with the dark purple background of the main field. Next, a multipart border includes a pair of narrow bands with a series of red cusps with clubs (a trilobed motif) emerging from the peaks against a white background to frame the green ground of the main, inner border. Medallions in the inner border with variously colored frames and backgrounds enclose colorfully dressed men riding caparisoned horses (a popular theme among textiles of late antique Egypt).Kitzinger, “Horse and Lion Tapestry,” 34–43. One feature in the main border that exploits the possibilities of color-shading in tapestry weaving is the use of different shades of colors in the horsemen’s clothing to suggest the luster of silk—its ability to reflect and refract light.

Minute color variations within motifs, in mirroring images of, for instance, the addorsed and facing horses and lions, constantly thwart expectations established by larger-scale patterning. Important for the overall effect is the outermost extant border element, a thin purple strip that has the effect of melding the disparate motifs into a single coherent composition because it echoes the background color of the main field. The acanthus vegetation, for example, subtly transitions between different shades of green, lending a naturalistic sense of depth to the depiction. In contrast, the spots of a leopard in the border employ the machine-like repetition of small points of color that is characteristic of compound weaving.

This composition draws upon Greco-Roman (border) and Persian (main field) visual vocabularies as it playfully combines vegetal and figural motifs emphasizing prosperity and fierceness. The colorfully dressed horsemen in medallions carry spears or round projectiles—a common motif among hunting scenes from the Greco-Roman repertory of late antique textiles of Mediterranean regions.On this motif, see S. Schrenk, Textilien des Mittelmeerraumes aus spätantiker bis frühislamischer Zeit (Riggisberg, 2004), 133. A. Stauffer, Antike Musterblätter: Wirkkartons aus dem spätantiken und frühbyzantinischen Ägypten (Wiesbaden, 2008), 182–83, no. 65, discussing a fourth-century textile model painted on papyrus of a man riding Pegasus (or some other winged horse), identifies the round object as a ball, that is, as an object of play rather than a weapon. Between the medallions are snarling, stalking lions and leopards—these, like the horses in the medallions and the felines in the main, inner field, signal their fury with large, red-veined eyes. However, these beasts wear jeweled collars like animals in a kingly game preserve.For a thorough overview of the tradition, see N. P. Ševčenko, “Wild Animals in the Byzantine Park,” in Byzantine Garden Culture, ed. A. Littlewood, H. Maguire, and J. Wolschke-Bulmahn (Washington, DC, 2002), 69–86. Altogether, this imagery—prettily attired hunters on notably small horses; burgeoning, fantastically hybrid potted plants; and decorated and decorative animals—expresses mastery over men, beasts, and vegetation, and, perhaps, even their growth.See J. M. C. Toynbee, Animals in Roman Art and Life (London, 1973), chapter 4, “Felines,” 61–90, and chapter 16, “Equine Animals,” 167–99; the discussion on horses, 167–85, considers wild horses, lavish ornament, and hunting on horseback.

Byzantine emulation of Persian styles, motifs, and designs is well known in compound-woven silks and tapestry-woven wools, as well as floor mosaics.Kitzinger, “Horse and Lion Tapestry,” esp. 33; H. Peirce and R. Tyler, “The Prague Rider-Silk and the Persian-Byzantine Problem,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 68, no. 398 (1936): 213–15, 218–21, and 224 (offering a happier phrase, “Persanerie Byzantine,” at p. 214); and, J.-M. Spieser, Thessalonique et ses monuments du IVe au VIe siècle: Contribution à l’étude d’une ville paléochrétienne (Athens, 1984), 135–38 and 202, n227 on the Persianate motifs and likely sixth-century dating in relation to other Byzantine examples. A tapestry-woven hanging in Paris presents a Persianate hybrid vegetal motif growing from an improbably small triangular vase, with the same club-and-half-circle framing motif flanking the main, inner border.Paris, Musée du Louvre, E 29392; Stauffer, Antike Musterblätter, 187 and plate 47. In the main field is a repeating pattern of rows of crowned human heads alternating with a double-headed griffin on a pedestal that is decorated on the front with a rosette. The color scheme is also similar.

A silk fragment with griffins (?) and birds in Lyon is one of many examples presenting pairs of animals in a repeating pattern.Lyon, Musée des Tissus, 26.812/8; Schrenk, Textilien des Mittelmeerraumes, 14, fig 3. Kitzinger, “Horse and Lion Tapestry,” 10, provides additional comparisons with wool tapestries and compound-woven silks with addorsed busts of animals on a pedestal, followed by speculation as to which came first, silk (his conclusion); he then considers “the [Persian] origin of the silk models” (15–24). The “Nature Goddess Silk”—a middle Byzantine compound-woven twill (samite) from Constantinople found in the tomb of Saint Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral—provides a comparison for the motif of fruit- and plant-filled chalices flanked by birds.H. Granger-Taylor in Byzantium: Treasures of Byzantine Art and Culture from British Collections, ed. D. Buckton (London, 1994), 126–28, no. 139, dated to the first half of the ninth century. This is the interstitial motif in the repeating overall pattern of medallions containing the personification of Earth, who wears a Persian-style, lattice-patterned garment and headdress of plants, and holds a cloth filled with fruit, arising from waters filed with fish and birds. Even the framing of the medallion by a band containing various fruits helps to express another theme of mastery—that of the acquisition and the ordering of earthly abundance.

—Thelma K. Thomas, May 2019

 

Notes

Accession numberBZ.1939.13
Attribution and Date
Eastern Mediterranean, ca. 6th or 7th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 166.5 cm × W. (weft) 80.0 cm (65 9/16 × 31 1/2 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Kalebdjian Frères, Paris; Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks, purchase, 1939; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.

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.

Washington, DC, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, The Collector’s Microbe: Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss and the Dumbarton Oaks Collections, April 9–November 9, 2008.

Washington, DC, The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt, August 31, 2019—January 5, 2020.

Accession numberBZ.1939.13
Attribution and Date
Eastern Mediterranean, ca. 6th or 7th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 166.5 cm × W. (weft) 80.0 cm (65 9/16 × 31 1/2 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Kalebdjian Frères, Paris; Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks, purchase, 1939; 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), 253–55.

Dumbarton Oaks, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection of Harvard University: Handbook of the Collection (Washington, DC, 1946), 129, no. 256.

E. Kitzinger, “The Horse and Lion Tapestry at Dumbarton Oaks: A Study in Coptic and Sassanian Textile Design,” DOP 3 (1946): 1–72.

A. C. Weibel, Two Thousand Years of Textiles: The Figured Textiles of Europe and the Near East (New York, 1952), no. 34.

Dumbarton Oaks, The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University: Handbook (Washington, DC, 1955), 155, no. 303.

2000 Years of Tapestry Weaving (Hartford, CT, 1951), no. 41 (not in exhibition).

W. F. Volbach, Il tessuto nell'arte antica (Milan, 1966), plate 28.

Dumbarton Oaks, Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, DC, 1967), 108–9, no. 366, plate 366.

W. F. Volbach, Early Decorative Textiles (London, 1969), plate 28.

D. Thompson, “Catalogue of Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection” (unpublished catalogue, Washington, DC, 1976), no. 54.

D. Bénazeth and P. Dal-Prà, “Renaissance d’une tapisserie antique.” Revue du Louvre, Revue des musées de France 45, no. 4 (1995): fig. 6.

K. Otavsky, ed., Entlang der Seidenstrasse: Frühmittelalterliche Kunst zwischen Persien und China in der Abegg-Stiftung (Riggisberg, 1998), 154, plate 86.

T. K. Thomas, “Coptic and Byzantine Textiles Found in Egypt: Corpora, Collections, and Scholarly Perspectives,” in Egypt in the Byzantine World, 300–700, ed. R. S. Bagnall (Cambridge, 2007), 148, fig. 7.8.

G. Bühl and E. Williams, “Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection: Past Studies and Future Directions,” in Textiles, Tools and Techniques of the 1st Millennium AD from Egypt and Neighbouring Countries: 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), 67, fig. 6.

G. Bühl, S. Krody, E. Dospěl Williams, Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt (Washington, DC, 2019), 106-7, no. 48.

Qantara Mediterranean Heritage, “Horse and Lion Tapestry,” https://www.qantara-med.org/public/show_document.php?do_id=760.

Accession numberBZ.1939.13
Attribution and Date
Eastern Mediterranean, ca. 6th or 7th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 166.5 cm × W. (weft) 80.0 cm (65 9/16 × 31 1/2 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Kalebdjian Frères, Paris; Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks, purchase, 1939; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.