Dumbarton Oaks Microsite

Tunic Clavus

 
Accession numberBZ.1953.2.6
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 5th–10th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 59.1 cm × W. (warp) 5.2 cm (23 1/4 × 2 1/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool

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.

This fragment of a clavus is rendered in tapestry weave in beige and red-purple. Remnants of the ground are visible along the lower edge, just above the small roundel at the bottom of the clavus. The textile’s design is dominated by spindly floral motifs woven in beige, which scroll down the narrow frame and fill the roundel. The clavus is framed by a wave pattern along its outer edge.

This exceptionally narrow, long clavus likely came from a tunic. Though pink-brown today, we can guess that the piece was originally a more vibrant red. The deep red color scheme and beige decoration of the floral motifs suggests that the piece emulates two-tone silks, many of which are associated with Akhmīm.For a list of many examples, along with radiocarbon dating and dye analyses, see A. De Moor, S. Schrenk, and C. Verhecken-Lammens, “New Research on the So-Called Akhmim Silks,” in Textiles in situ: Their Find Spots in Egypt and Neighbouring Countries in the First Millennium CE, ed. S. Schrenk (Riggisberg, 2006), 85–94. The textiles were recently discussed by T. K. Thomas, “Silks of the Panopolis (Akhmim) Group,” in Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th–9th Century, ed. H. C. Evans and B. Ratliff (New York, 2012), 154–59, no. 103A–G. These pieces featured similar red tones and spindly, abstracted floral patterns (see BZ.1977.2).

Silk was considered the most luxurious material in late antique and Byzantine dress, and its wear was highly regulated. Garments made entirely from silk must have been rare; more commonly, we encounter surviving examples of silk decoration intended to serve as medallions, sleevebands, clavi, and hems. A nearly complete tunic in London shows how silk elements  appeared when applied to a plain-weave ground.London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 820-1903, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O248677/tunic-unknown: A. F. Kendrick, Catalogue of Textiles from Burying-Grounds in Egypt, vol. 3, Coptic Period (London, 1922), 75–76, no. 794, plate I.

 To achieve these details, shapes were generally cut from a larger, rectangular fragment: a fragment in Antwerp still preserves a two-tone silk at its hemband,Antwerp, Katoen Natie, 998-08. The silk and the surrounding ground have been radiocarbon dated and are roughly contemporaneous, though it is possible that the silk fragments were transposed and reused from one tunic to another. Radiocarbon-dating information taken from publicly available results published on “Textile Dates” database, Abteilung Christliche Archäologie, Universität Bonn, http://ww.textile-dates.info/textile_list_start.php?textile_id=295. while two silk fragments in Riggisberg have clearly been cut into clavi.Riggisberg, Abegg-Stiftung, inv. 2002 and 2070: S. Schrenk, Textilen des Mittelmeerraumes aus spätantiker bis frühislamischer Zeit (Riggisberg, 2004), 275–78, nos. 115–16. However, tunic embellishments were even sometimes woven to specific shapes, such as a silk clavus and medallion in Riggisberg, which are not cut from a larger bolt of silk but rather woven into their standard forms.Riggisberg, Abegg-Stiftung, inv. 463 and 481: ibid., 378–80, no. 180. Tapestry-woven examples in wool—like BZ.1953.2.6—emulate a luxurious silk fashion aesthetic in a more affordable wool tapestry weave.

A similar pattern and color scheme (though with more brown hues) is held in Mainz, dated there generally to the fifth to tenth centuries.Mainz, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, O.22236: P. Linscheid, Die frühbyzantinischen Textilien des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums (Mainz, 2016), 69–70, no. 18. For a similar design rationale, see BZ.1973.32.

—Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, May 2019

 

Notes

Accession numberBZ.1953.2.6
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 5th–10th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 59.1 cm × W. (warp) 5.2 cm (23 1/4 × 2 1/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool

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. 108.

Accession numberBZ.1953.2.6
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 5th–10th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 59.1 cm × W. (warp) 5.2 cm (23 1/4 × 2 1/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool

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.