Dumbarton Oaks Microsite

Tunic Clavi

 
Accession numberBZ.1953.2.52
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–10th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 49.5 cm × W. (warp) 7.9 cm (19 1/2 × 3 1/8 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Crocker Collection, San Francisco, Mrs. William Henry Crocker (Ethel Willard Sperry Crocker, 1861–1934); Loaned to the San Francisco Museum of Art until 1953; Gift of Mrs. Andre de Limur (Ethel Mary Crocker de Limur, 1891–1964), Washington, DC, in 1953; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

These two rectangular fragments (left: BZ.1953.2.50; right: BZ.1953.2.52) feature colorful tapestry-woven clavi in beige, red, pink, peach, orange, yellow, light green, green, light blue, blue, dark blue, and brown. The clavi are applied to a tapestry-woven ground in light blue. Pairs of beige stripes run parallel to the clavi in the surrounding ground. The clavi have been cut at the top, but preserve their roundels at bottom. They depict richly dressed figures, floral patterns, and animal motifs. A colorful stepped border frames the clavi and connects to the roundels, which feature stylized plant patterns; the orientation of the floral motif is reversed in these roundels.

Though these fragments are separated today, they share enough stylistic, iconographic, and technical similarities to suggest that they were once part of the same tunic. The two pieces preserve remnants of a tuck, a feature appearing on many complete late antique tunics from Egypt. The purposes of this tuck remain uncertain: it may have been a practical feature meant to accommodate the wearer’s height, or an aesthetic choice affecting the drape of the tunic itself.Discussed by K. Colburn, “A Closer Look at Textiles from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Materials and Techniques,” in Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity, ed. T. K. Thomas (Princeton, NJ, 2016), 131. Interestingly, these decorative clavi were applied on top of the tuck, suggesting that they were cut from another cloth and reused in this context. That the small roundels at the end of the tunic preserve a floral motif that reverses may suggest these are parts of one clavus running over the shoulder from front to back of the tunic.

The clavi are also interesting for their depiction of standing, nimbed figures wearing rich garments and holding staffs. These figures may represent imperial, or possibly religious figures, though they are not easily identifiable, especially in the absence of an accompanying inscription: their gemstone-studded garments and impressive rods might associate them with allegories, city representations (Tyche), saints, or angels.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 at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst (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.

Unusual details in the clavi complicate any iconographic reading, but make a case for the long life of certain imagery over time. For example, the feet of the figures resemble hooves or floral patterns, which may indicate that the precise meaning of the original concept was lost or confused in the copying.

—Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, May 2019

 

Notes

Accession numberBZ.1953.2.52
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–10th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 49.5 cm × W. (warp) 7.9 cm (19 1/2 × 3 1/8 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Crocker Collection, San Francisco, Mrs. William Henry Crocker (Ethel Willard Sperry Crocker, 1861–1934); Loaned to the San Francisco Museum of Art until 1953; Gift of Mrs. Andre de Limur (Ethel Mary Crocker de Limur, 1891–1964), Washington, DC, in 1953; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

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

Accession numberBZ.1953.2.52
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–10th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 49.5 cm × W. (warp) 7.9 cm (19 1/2 × 3 1/8 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Crocker Collection, San Francisco, Mrs. William Henry Crocker (Ethel Willard Sperry Crocker, 1861–1934); Loaned to the San Francisco Museum of Art until 1953; Gift of Mrs. Andre de Limur (Ethel Mary Crocker de Limur, 1891–1964), Washington, DC, in 1953; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

D. Thompson, “Catalogue of Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection” (unpublished catalogue, Washington, DC, 1976), no. 88a–b.

Accession numberBZ.1953.2.52
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–10th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 49.5 cm × W. (warp) 7.9 cm (19 1/2 × 3 1/8 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Crocker Collection, San Francisco, Mrs. William Henry Crocker (Ethel Willard Sperry Crocker, 1861–1934); Loaned to the San Francisco Museum of Art until 1953; Gift of Mrs. Andre de Limur (Ethel Mary Crocker de Limur, 1891–1964), Washington, DC, in 1953; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

Accession numberBZ.1953.2.52
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 7th–10th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 49.5 cm × W. (warp) 7.9 cm (19 1/2 × 3 1/8 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen

Acquisition history

Crocker Collection, San Francisco, Mrs. William Henry Crocker (Ethel Willard Sperry Crocker, 1861–1934); Loaned to the San Francisco Museum of Art until 1953; Gift of Mrs. Andre de Limur (Ethel Mary Crocker de Limur, 1891–1964), Washington, DC, in 1953; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.