Dumbarton Oaks Microsite

Fragments of Tunic Clavi

 
Accession numberBZ.1940.45
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–8th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 29.9 cm × W. (warp) 9.6 cm (11 3/4 × 3 3/4 in.) (warps folded under slightly) and 20.3 × 9.4 cm (8 × 3 11/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Collection of Theodore E. Merrill (sale May 22, 1940, no. L61); Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, purchase, 1940; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.

These textile fragments are rendered in tapestry weave in beige, red, light green, light blue, blue, dark blue, purple, several shades of tan, and brown. They depict nearly identical scenes, suggesting they were once part of a single clavus, or else represent two matching clavi. Remnants of the beige ground from which these pieces have been cut are preserved along the long edges. At top, three heads look down on a scene depicting two adult male figures standing above a kneeling, seminude figure. Beneath this scene, a group of four figures hovers over a smaller figure at left. One clavus fragment features the scant remains of another register, featuring a standing figure facing a floral motif. The figures all wear draped garments and are depicted with nimbi. Letter-like figures woven in beige appear amidst the figural decorations, evocative of Greek or Coptic inscriptions.

The iconography of these pieces recalls fragments with biblical scenes.See catalogue entry for BZ.1933.17a–b for discussion. Some such textiles depict Mariological and Christological scenes, including the Annunciation, Visitation, and Baptism, though the details of these fragments deviate enough from standard iconography that it is difficult to identify the imagery precisely. Each of these fragments may represent the Baptism of Christ in its upper register, but the middle register, with its crowd of men in tunics, remains difficult to decipher. Similarly ambiguous are the squiggly beige lines that appear near the heads of the figures on Dumbarton Oaks’ textile and others like it, which invite comparisons to writing, but remain garbled and illegible.See, e.g., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 90.5.816, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/444295. A similar example has been radiocarbon dated to the seventh to eighth century: Antwerp, Katoen Natie, 1405-01, http://c14.kikirpa.be/display_record.php?id=KIK- 4344.

These observations raise fascinating questions about workshop practice and viewer sensitivities. We can guess that tapestry-woven textiles were copied over many years, or in many workshops, by weavers who might not have been particularly familiar with the meaning of the inscriptions or the iconographies they were copying. Another possibility is that the weavers were in fact emulating the effects of more expensive silks with biblical scenes, many of which featured red grounds and inscriptions. Or, we could consider that the veracity of the inscriptions and iconography did not matter much, since the imagery and pseudo-inscriptions may have carried meaningful, possibly protective, overtones by their mere presence.

—Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, May 2019

 

 

Notes

Accession numberBZ.1940.45
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–8th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 29.9 cm × W. (warp) 9.6 cm (11 3/4 × 3 3/4 in.) (warps folded under slightly) and 20.3 × 9.4 cm (8 × 3 11/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Collection of Theodore E. Merrill (sale May 22, 1940, no. L61); Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, purchase, 1940; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.

Washington, DC, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Ornament: Fragments of Byzantine Fashion, September 10, 2019—January 5, 2020.

Accession numberBZ.1940.45
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–8th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 29.9 cm × W. (warp) 9.6 cm (11 3/4 × 3 3/4 in.) (warps folded under slightly) and 20.3 × 9.4 cm (8 × 3 11/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Collection of Theodore E. Merrill (sale May 22, 1940, no. L61); Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, purchase, 1940; 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), 305.

D. Thompson, “Catalogue of Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection” (unpublished catalogue, Washington, DC, 1976), no. 78.

Accession numberBZ.1940.45
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–8th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 29.9 cm × W. (warp) 9.6 cm (11 3/4 × 3 3/4 in.) (warps folded under slightly) and 20.3 × 9.4 cm (8 × 3 11/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Collection of Theodore E. Merrill (sale May 22, 1940, no. L61); Robert Woods and Mildred Barnes Bliss, purchase, 1940; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1940.