Dumbarton Oaks Microsite

Fragment of a Hanging with Two Riders

 
Accession numberBZ.1943.8
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–8th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 102.5 cm × W. (weft) 77.0 cm (40 3/8 x 30 5/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen on a plain-weave ground in blue wool

Acquisition history

Collection of the Byzantine Institute, to 1943; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

Detailed dimensions

Height: 102.5 cm (warp direction)

Width: 77.0 cm (weft direction)

Gammadion (including roundels): 96.0 cm × 70.0 cm

Center tabula: 58.0 cm × 45.0 cm

Inner tabula: 37.0 cm × 29.0 cm

Center medallion: 31.5 cm × 25.5 cm

Upper right roundel: 10.0 cm × 9.5 cm

Lower left roundel: 10.0 cm × 9.0 cm

Estimated size of inserted area on lower left: 12.5 × 23.5 cm

 

Materials

Composition: Tapestry weave

Warp: Wool, single spun S-direction (S), 9–12/cm; blue

Weft: Wool, single spun S-direction (S), 24–42/cm; pinkish beige, red, blue, green; yellow and blue in the same shed: 12/cm. Linen, single spun S-direction (S), 30–36/cm; undyed.

 

Ground: Plain weave

Warp: Wool, single spun S-direction (S), 7–15/cm; blue

Weft: Wool, single spun S-direction (S), 18–22/cm; blue. Linen, single spun S-direction (S); undyed (bleached?)

 

Supplementary weft: Linen, single spun S-direction (S); undyed (bleached?)

Sewing thread: Wool, 2 yarns single spun S-direction (S); 2 yarns single spun S-direction plied in Z-direction (S2Z); blue

 

Technique

Tapestry weave on plain-weave ground

 

Discussion

The composition of this fragment suggests that it was part of the lower right corner of a larger textile. It was woven in tapestry weave with colored wool weft on a blue wool warp set against a blue plain-weave ground. Color junctures are achieved with dovetailing and slits; slits of a certain length were sewn closed in whipstitch with blue wool. Non-horizontal wefts emphasize contours. Supplementary weft in undyed linen was used to create detailing and is especially visible in the narrow blue and red vertical bands of the gammadion.

 

Condition

This fragment is part of a larger textile. There is soiling and discoloration throughout, with holes and warp and weft loss. The textile is brittle, and the edges are cut. The sewing thread is partially deteriorated. There are ancient repairs throughout. The color preservation is compromised. No selvage survives. The lower left roundel is detached from the main fragment; it most likely belongs to the same weaving and was inserted here during a recent conservation treatment. A second random fragment, BZ.1943.8a, could not be incorporated into the weaving.

 

Conservation history

Removed from old backing and cleaned (1972); remounted (1973); stitched to a fabric covered stretcher frame (unknown date)

 

—Kathrin Colburn, July 2019

 
Accession numberBZ.1943.8
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–8th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 102.5 cm × W. (weft) 77.0 cm (40 3/8 x 30 5/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen on a plain-weave ground in blue wool

Acquisition history

Collection of the Byzantine Institute, to 1943; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

This fragment of a hanging features a roundel with two horsemen on a red ground set into a rectangle of dark blue with lions at each corner, with the entire composition on a dark blue ground. The horsemen mount addorsed horses with staring eyes and upraised arms. Their white horses appear to trot over small piles, possibly bowls stacked with fruits. The riders are framed by a rectangular band with a yellow ground containing a series of fish, birds, and plants alternating with small roundels, red ones at each corner and blue ones on each side. In these small roundels erotes acting as servants scurry forth with bowls and other vessels, possibly containing food. A narrower outer frame features red T-shapes or arrows (the shapes vary) emerging from a red line against a white background; a thin stripe of blue plain-weave ground separates the two frames.

A gammadion (L-shaped bracket) with two small roundels extending from each end floats outside of the rectangle, framing its lower right corner. The design of the gammadion mirrors that of the rectangular band framing the central motif: it contains a series of fish, birds, and plants alternating with small roundels containing servant-erotes bearing food on a yellow ground, and is surrounded by a thin stripe of blue linen ground followed by a white border with a series of red T’s emerging from a red line. The two roundels at each end of the gammadion contain servant-erotes running with birds in their arms. At some point when the textile was mounted, the lower left roundel was inserted into its current position, as is apparent from the stitching affixing it to the support.It is likely that this medallion is in its original position. It is not possible to tell when or how it came apart from the rest of the textile.

The colors are used uniformly without shading effects from the optical blending of colors (achieved by weaving with different colored yarns in close proximity to each other). Most figures and objects are outlined with contrasting colors, such as the white borders of the red medallions or the black outlines of the fish. Texture and pattern are also woven graphically, as in the red stripes articulating the fur of the lions, or the dots on the plants.

The piece is a fragment of a larger textile, once likely its lower right corner, as suggested by the framing gammadion.For a full reconstruction of this textile as a hanging, see J. L. Ball, “Rich Interiors: The Remnant of a Hanging from Late Antique Egypt in the Collection of Dumbarton Oaks.” Several pieces of evidence point to its once having hung vertically, as a curtain or wall hanging. The motifs read in one direction, from top to bottom, suggesting a vertical orientation. The fragmentary condition of the textile precludes a definitive statement about its original orientation; the now-missing parts may have been oriented horizontally. However, other factors support the reconstruction of it as a vertical hanging or curtain. More complete hangings with similar compositions featuring medallions set within rectangles framed by gammadia—such as examples in the Abegg-Stiftung and the Metropolitan Museum of Art—indicate that the Dumbarton Oaks textile may originally have been at least double its current height, or about seven feet tall, too large to drape over most furniture or to use as a bed covering.Riggisberg, Abegg-Stiftung, inv. 424, 425, 426: S. Schrenk, Textilien des Mittelmeerraumes aus spätantiker bis frühislamischer Zeit (Riggisberg, 2004), 114–16, no. 34; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 29.9.3, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/448227. Moreover, the wear on the textile does not indicate that it was walked on as a carpet would be, nor does it have creases indicating extended periods being draped over something like a table. Further evidence is provided by a separate roundel in the Dumbarton Oaks collection, which was probably once part of the same textile, and both sides of which are visible (BZ.1943.8a). It displays a clean back with only a few weft floats, suggesting that the textile was designed to be visible from both sides.The reverse of the large fragment is not accessible, and conservator Kathrin Colburn notes that comparison to the smaller fragment is conjectural. Deborah Thompson, who examined the large fragment in the 1970s, described its reverse side as “finished”: D. Thompson, “Catalogue of the Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection” (unpublished catalogue, Washington, DC, 1976), no. 157. We are unfortunately missing the top of the textile where a rod, hooks, rings, or other fastening may once have been, and thus are unable to confirm without a doubt that the textile was hung.

BZ.1943.8 is nearly identical to a fragment of a hanging or curtain found at the Israel Museum.Jerusalem, Israel Museum, 925.70: A. Baginski and A. Tidhar, Textiles from Egypt, 4th–13th Centuries C.E. (Jerusalem, 1980), no. 191. Comparison of their imagery and respective dimensions indicates that these fragments were likely once part of the same textile or set of textiles, but scientific analysis is needed to confirm their relationship.The suggestion that these textiles are from a set was made in a catalogue for an exhibition at the L. A. Mayer Memorial Institute for Islamic Art: Baginski and Tidhar, Textiles from Egypt, no. 191. For a comparison of dimensions, see Ball, “Rich Interiors.” I am very grateful to Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, who inspected and measured the Israel Museum piece in July 2013 and shared with me her photographs and documentation. The gammadion and the tabula with the rider are nearly identical in size, strongly suggesting a relationship between them, perhaps the same workshop.

The theme of food and abundance, suggested also by the wildlife and the erotes bringing forth goods, is prevalent on this textile. The horsemen do not appear to be hunters or warriors of any kind because their horses do not run but are fixed in their poses, their tails twisted together, with their hooves raised with precision. The iconography of the horsemen is unusual in that the horses pose over what appear to be piles of fruits or other food. The unusual combination of erotes, flora and fauna (possibly of the Nile), and mounted riders with bowls of food at the horses’ feet is also found in the aforementioned hanging at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (29.9.3) as well as the Israel Museum piece. Several iconographic details can be found on all three textiles: the series of T-shapes running along the borders; the servant-erotes rushing forth with food or birds; the lions at the corners of the rectangular frames; the alternating birds, fish, and plants with large dots; and the horses riding over bowls of fruit. The Metropolitan’s piece has additional colors and iconographic details not present on the curtain fragments, such as the presence of busts of Ge (Earth). The piece in New York is complete, while those at Dumbarton Oaks and the Israel Museum are not, opening the possibility that some of its motifs were originally present on our piece. The similarities suggest at least that the artists worked from some of the same patterns.

The horseman trotting over food can also be found on a fragment now in Cairo, which helps to confirm the dating of our textile.Cairo, Museum of Islamic Art, 13223, catalogue entry by D. Bénazeth in L’art copte en Égypte: 2000 ans de christianisme (Paris, 2000), 173, no. 178. The rider on the Cairene piece carries a whip, riding crop, or scarf, and wears the same short, pearl-decorated riding jacket as on the Dumbarton Oaks piece, though the Cairo rider is turbaned. This textile has been dated to the eighth century based on the Arabic inscription that borders the fragment at top and bottom, which may read “Allah” forward and backward.According to D. Bénazeth in L’art copte, 173, no. 178. The iconographic connection to an inscribed textile placed firmly in the Islamic era suggests that the Dumbarton Oaks textile should also be dated to the seventh to eighth centuries, after the Arab conquest of Egypt.For a full discussion of the redating of the textile, see Ball, “Rich Interiors.”

—Jennifer L. Ball, May 2019

 

Notes

Accession numberBZ.1943.8
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–8th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 102.5 cm × W. (weft) 77.0 cm (40 3/8 x 30 5/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen on a plain-weave ground in blue wool

Acquisition history

Collection of the Byzantine Institute, to 1943; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

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.1943.8
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–8th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 102.5 cm × W. (weft) 77.0 cm (40 3/8 x 30 5/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen on a plain-weave ground in blue wool

Acquisition history

Collection of the Byzantine Institute, to 1943; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

Dumbarton Oaks, Handbook of the Collection (Washington, DC, 1946), 128, no. 254.

Dumbarton Oaks, Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, DC, 1967), 108, no. 365.

D. Thompson, “Catalogue of Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection” (unpublished catalogue, Washington, DC, 1976), no. 157.

J. 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. G. Bühl and E. Dospěl Williams (Washington, DC, 2019) [= DOP 73 (2019)].

G. Bühl, S. Krody, E. Dospěl Williams, Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt (Washington, DC, 2019), 118-9, no. 51.

Accession numberBZ.1943.8
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–8th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 102.5 cm × W. (weft) 77.0 cm (40 3/8 x 30 5/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen on a plain-weave ground in blue wool

Acquisition history

Collection of the Byzantine Institute, to 1943; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

Accession numberBZ.1943.8
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–8th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 102.5 cm × W. (weft) 77.0 cm (40 3/8 x 30 5/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen on a plain-weave ground in blue wool

Acquisition history

Collection of the Byzantine Institute, to 1943; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.