Dumbarton Oaks Microsite

Square with Dancers under Arcades

 
Accession numberBZ.1953.2.89
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 5th–6th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 40.0 cm × W. (warp) 49.5 cm (15 3/4 × 19 1/2 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen, and weft-loop pile in undyed linen on plain-weave ground in 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.

Detailed dimensions

Height: 40.0 cm (weft direction)

Width: 49.5 cm (warp direction)

Tapestry-woven square: 32.0 × 33.5 cm

 

Materials

Composition: Tapestry weave

Warp: Linen, single spun S-direction (S), paired and occasionally tripled, 7/cm; undyed

Weft: Wool, single spun S-direction (S), 36–48/cm; red, orange, yellow, pink, purple, green, and blue. Linen, single spun S-direction (S), 22–42/cm; undyed.

 

Ground: Weft-loop pile on plain-weave ground with self-bands

Warp: Linen, single spun S-direction (S), 16–18/cm; undyed

Weft: Linen, single spun S-direction (S), 10–12/cm; undyed

Loops: Linen, 3 single spun S-direction (S); undyed

Sewing thread: Linen, 2 single spun S-direction plied in Z-direction (S2Z); undyed

 

Technique

Tapestry weave, plain weave, and weft-loop pile

 

Discussion

The composition of this fragment is woven in tapestry weave in colored wool weft and undyed linen. Color junctures are achieved with short slits and dovetailing; non-horizontal wefts shape contours. Decorative details in the composition are rendered with supplementary weft in undyed linen (such as in the columns) and orange wool (such as in the hair of the human figures). On the left, right, and lower edge, the tapestry woven square is surrounded with remnants of weft loop pile. To create the loops, a supplementary weft consisting of three S-spun linen threads, was placed in the open plain-weave shed, carried under two warp threads and wrapped around the following two warps in the opposite direction. Then, a loop of approximately three to four centimeters in length was formed. To hold a completed row of loops in place, two supplementary linen wefts were placed in the same pile row, creating self-bands, followed by nine linen wefts in plain-weave that formed the undecorated, natural-colored plain-weave ground. The tapestry-woven square was stitched along its bottom edge—where a selvage survives—to the remainder of the weaving with whipstitches in undyed linen.

 

Condition

This is a fragment of a larger textile. It is composed of several pieces that most likely all belonged to the same original textile. Several small fragments in weft loop pile were integrated to fill missing areas along the top left corner, the lower right corner, and the right edge. At the top right corner, a large section of the tapestry woven square is missing; a fabric from a previous mounting is visible instead. The edges are fragile. Soiling and discoloration can be particularly observed in the areas woven in weft-loop pile. The color preservation of the wool weft is good. The surface is abraded.

 

Conservation history

Stabilized and stitched to a backing fabric (2003); on the upper right corner, a piece of modern fabric from a previous mounting is visible.

 

—Kathrin Colburn, August 2019

 
Accession numberBZ.1953.2.89
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 5th–6th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 40.0 cm × W. (warp) 49.5 cm (15 3/4 × 19 1/2 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen, and weft-loop pile in undyed linen on plain-weave ground in 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.

This fragment is an almost square panel executed in tapestry-weave technique, the upper part of which is largely damaged. The piece is surrounded on three sides (left, right, and lower) by remnants of an undyed linen weave with long loop pile on the surface. Beneath the fragment a plain linen weave from another ancient cloth is visible: it was probably added to stabilize the fragile fabric in modern times.

At the center of the tapestry panel is a depiction of two naked human figures surrounded by a square border, executed primarily in dark purple wool. A female on the left and a male on the right stand under an arcade with decorated columns and triangular pediments topped by a wave pattern. The movement of the figures implies dancing, in particular that of the woman, whose crossed legs turn to the right while the upper part of her body is oriented in the opposite direction, with one arm raised and the other hanging downward. The woman is swinging a cloak or shawl in two different shades of red around her body.

The man holds a long, unidentifiable red object parallel to his left leg. A green fabric falling down his back on his proper right seems to be a cloak. Figures like these belong to the retinue of Dionysos, the god of wine, and are frequently represented on textiles from late antique Egypt, clothing and furnishing fabrics alike. The dark coloring of the bodies of the figures depicted on these textiles does not refer to their ethnic background (as is occasionally argued), but was simply a fashion of the time.H. Granger-Taylor, catalogue entry in A. De Moor, ed., Koptisch Textiel uit Vlaamse privé-verzamelingen (Zottegem 1993), 145–46, no. 51, and S. Schrenk, ed., Textilien des Mittelmeerraumes aus spätantiker bis frühislamischer Zeit (Riggisberg, 2004), 60n192, versus J. Weitzmann-Fiedler, “Textile with Shepherd,” catalogue entry in K. Weitzmann, ed., Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century; Catalogue of the Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 19, 1977, through February 12, 1978 (New York, 1979), 253–54, no. 235. One possible argument for the use of dark wool is that bronze statues might have served as models for these figures.See E. D. Maguire, Weavings from Roman, Byzantine and Islamic Egypt: The Rich Life and the Dance (Champaign, IL, 1999), 87–90, esp. 89.

The central scene is framed by a band occupied by a series of dark circles. Each circle contains a light-colored (undyed linen) stylized rosette, which in turn contains a colored vine leaf in green, orange, blue, or red. The same four hues are used for the little tendrils that sprout from the dark circles, occupying the spandrels between them. The outer edge of the frame is articulated with a series of half-circles in the same shade of dark purple.

The fragment belongs to a particular group of linen fabrics with tapestry decoration surrounded by loop pile, believed to have been made in Akhmīm. Such pieces can be found in almost every museum with late antique textiles from Egypt. Square tapestry decorations surrounded by loop pile are only preserved in fragmentary condition, cut out from larger pieces of fabric by art dealers who gave them an almost square appearance, making them look like cushions. Rarely are selvages or original edges preserved. Larger surviving fragments of such fabrics preserve, in addition to the inserted squares, broad strip(e)s with corresponding motifs that run in weft direction parallel to the shorter edge of the cloth. Such fragments usually come from cloths that were used as mattress or even floor coverings.It might also be that textiles with pile on the surface served as mantles. Pliny, for instance, mentions that fur-like cloaks were fashionable in his father’s time (Pliny, Nat. Hist. 8.73, 8.193). However, because of their weight and the fact that they are relatively “bulky” and therefore not suitable to adapt the human body, it is more likely that the pieces under consideration here were used as coverings; see also A. Paetz gen. Schieck, “Late Roman Cushions and the Principles of Their Decoration,” in Clothing the House: Furnishing Textiles of the 1st Millennium AD from Egypt and Neighbouring Countries; Proceedings of the 5th Conference of the Research Group “Textiles from the Nile Valley,” Antwerp, 6–7 October 2007, ed. A. De Moor and C. Fluck (Tielt, 2009), 118.

It is therefore most likely that the fragments are not cushions, as is often suggested,For instance: M. von Falck, ed., Ägypten: Schätze aus dem Wüstensand; Kunst und Kultur der Christen am Nil; Katalog zur Ausstellung (Wiesbaden, 1996), 312–13, no. 254; M.-C. Bruwier, ed., Égyptiennes: Étoffes copte du Nil (Mariemont, 1997), 158–60, nos. 32–33. For arguments against cushions, see A. Paetz gen. Schieck, “Textile Bilderwelten: Wechselwirkungen zwischen Ägypten und Rom; Untersuchungen an ‘koptischen’ Textilien unter besonderer Berücksichtigung unbearbeiteter Sammlungsbestände in Nordrhein-Westfalen” (PhD thesis, Universität zu Köln, 2002), 34–35, 48; A. De Moor, C. Verhecken-Lammens, and A. Verhecken, 3500 jaar textielkunst: De collectie art in HeadquARTers (Tielt, 2008), 172; Paetz gen. Schieck, “Late Roman Cushions,” 117–18, no. 6; C. Verhecken-Lammens, “Linen Furnishing Textiles with Pile in the Collection of Katoen Natie,” in De Moor and Fluck, Clothing the House, 140. but originally belonged to larger rectangular sheets of fabric.At present only one cushion is known that is made entirely of a loop-pile textile; it is dated to the late Roman period (mid to late third century). But this example lacks tapestry decoration and was probably made from a reused fabric. R. J. Livingstone, “Late Antique Household Textiles from the Village of Kellis in the Dakhleh Oasis,” in De Moor and Fluck, Clothing the House, 78–79, figs. 6a–c; see also Paetz gen. Schieck, “Late Roman Cushions,” 117–18, no. 6.

Loop-pile weaves with relatively large square tapestry decoration are commonly attributed to workshops in Akhmīm (ancient Panopolis) in Upper Egypt.Schrenk, Textilien des Mittelmeerraumes, 129 and 131 (comment on no. 41); C. Fluck, “Akhmim as a Source of Textiles,” in Akhmim and Sohag, vol. 1 of Christianity and Monasticism in Upper Egypt, ed. G. Gabra and H. N. Takla (Cairo, 2008), 217–18. If a provenance is mentioned in the textile literature for loop-pile fabrics with tapestry decoration it is always Akhmīm. The decoration of the squares follows a particular formula: designs are rendered in dark purple and show a central circle or square occupied by one or two figures such as horsemen, hunters, or dancers (or, more rarely, symbols), framed by a band of circles or a scroll containing various motifs (often erotes, animals, baskets, vases, and/or flowers), all arranged symmetrically. The dark purple color dominates, but single motifs in the axes or diagonals can occur multicolored. Often only tiny details are woven in a different color.

Nine fabrics with tapestry squares from the collections of the Louvre, Katoen Natie in Antwerp, and the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz were recently radiocarbon-dated.D. Bénazeth, A. De Moor, and P. Linscheid, “Étoffes coptes bouclées et décorées de tapisseries: un groupe de couvertures des Ve-VIe siècles, dates au radiocarbone,” La Revue des Musées de France: Revue du Louvre 3 (2015): 34–36. The results surprisingly conformed to each other, with dating limited to the fifth to early sixth centuries. A nearly identical square with a different outer border is held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 89.18.331, http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/443544. Other fragments share similar technical, iconographic, or ornamental features.For example, Moscow, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts: M. E. Mat’e and K. S. Ljapunova, Chudožestyenye e tkani koptskogo Egipta (Moscow, 1951), 201, no. 65, plate XXIII, no. 3. A very similar design, but with only a few colored elements, is New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 89.18.163, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/443368. For a similar framing border, see Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe, T 144: P. Linscheid, Spätantike und Byzanz: Bestandkatalog Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe; Textilien (Mainz, 2017), 58, no. 66, plate 47.1. Other related textiles include Paris, Musée du Louvre, X4159: P. du Bourguet, Musée national du Louvre: Catalogue des étoffes coptes (Paris, 1964), 94, C 28, and Au fil du Nil: Coloeurs de l’Égypte chrétienne (Paris, 2001), 151, no. 109; Private collection, DM 57: Bruwier, Égyptiennes, 161, no. 35; Krefeld, Deutsches Textilmuseum, inv. 11747: A. Paetz gen. Schieck, Aus Gräbern geborgen: Koptische Textilien aus eigener Sammlung (Krefeld, 2003), 101, no. 208. For larger fragments of loop-pile weaves with tapestry decoration of strips and squares, see London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 745-1886: A. F. Kendrick, Graeco-Roman Period, vol. 1 of Catalogue of Textiles from Burying-Grounds in Egypt (London, 1920), 67, no. 68, plate XVI; Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, inv. 4658: Falck, Ägypten, 301–2, no. 341a; Düsseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, inv. 12682: ibid., 357–58, no. 409; Düsseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, 12674 and 12676: K.-H. Brune, Wirkereien mit figürlichen Motiven, vol. 1 of Die koptischen Textilien im Museum Kunst Palast Düsseldorf (Wiesbaden, 2004), 21–24, nos. 1–2, plate 17; Düsseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, inv. 12678, 12679, 12681, 12685, 12686, 12687, 12688, 12692: ibid., 27–41, nos. 4–11, plates 18–19; Düsseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, inv. 12682, 12690, 12675: S. Hodak, Figürliche und ornamentale Purpur- und Buntwirkereien, vol. 2 of Die koptischen Textilien im Museum Kunst Palast Düsseldorf (Wiesbaden, 2010), 130–42, nos. 26–28, plates 14–15; Düsseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, inv. 12684: ibid., 160–64, no. 35, plate 19; Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe, T 144: Linscheid, Spätantike und Byzanz, 58, no. 66, plate 47.1. For square or rectangular tapestries inserted into loop-pile weaves, see London, Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. 841-1886, 1260-1888, 282-1891, 285A-1891: Kendrick, Graeco-Roman Period, 67–68, nos. 69–72, plate XVII; Musée du Louvre, inv. X4191, X4787: du Bourguet Musée national du Louvre, 169, D 131–D 132; Antwerp, Katoen Natie, inv. 1161-01, 807, 665, 747-05: De Moor, Verhecken-Lammens, Verhecken, 3500 jaar textielkunst, 172–73.

—Cäcilia Fluck, May 2019

 

Notes

Accession numberBZ.1953.2.89
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 5th–6th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 40.0 cm × W. (warp) 49.5 cm (15 3/4 × 19 1/2 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen, and weft-loop pile in undyed linen on plain-weave ground in 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. 14.

Accession numberBZ.1953.2.89
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 5th–6th c.
Measurements

H. (weft) 40.0 cm × W. (warp) 49.5 cm (15 3/4 × 19 1/2 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool and undyed linen, and weft-loop pile in undyed linen on plain-weave ground in 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.