Dumbarton Oaks Microsite

Fragment of a Hanging with Two Figures in Arcades

 
Accession numberBZ.1970.43
Attribution and Date
Egypt, ca. 6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 42.0 cm × W. (weft) 63.2 cm (16 9/16 × 24 7/8 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool

Acquisition history

Collection of the Byzantine Institute, to 1970; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

Detailed dimensions

Height: 42.0 cm (warp direction)

Width: 63.2 cm (weft direction)

Side brown border: Width 8.0 cm

Upper brown border: Height 6.5cm

Side yellow border: Width: 2.0 cm

Upper yellow border: Height: 2.0 cm

Left column shaft: Width: 2.3 cm

Right column shaft: Width: 3.0 cm

Distance between the two column shafts: 23.0 cm

Left figure:

Height: 25.5 cm

Width: 19.3 cm          

Right figure:

Height: 30.0 cm

Width: 20.5 cm

 

Materials

Warp: Wool, single spun S-direction (S), predominantly single and sometimes paired, 6–11/cm; beige (undyed?), blue, red

Weft: Wool, single spun S-direction (S), 18–40/cm; beige, yellow, pink, red, green, blue, brown

 

Technique

Tapestry weave

 

Discussion

This fragmentary preserved hanging was woven on a polychrome wool warp that is partially exposed and thus adds to the textile’s overall coloring. At the left-most edge, 2.5 centimeters of the border were woven on a beige (undyed?) warp, followed by 9.5 centimeters woven on a blue warp, and the remainder on a red warp. Color junctures were achieved with short slits and dovetailing; non-horizontal wefts shape contours. Hatching was sophisticatedly employed to create light and shadow that give volume to the figures' garments. The dark blue wool weft employed in the mantle of the left figure is particularly fine, with a count of forty wefts per centimeter. Warps were paired to reinforce the outer and inner edges of the brown side border, both edges of the inner yellow border, the left edge of the left column shaft, and the right edge of the right column shaft. In addition, paired warps are randomly placed throughout the weaving without a specific sequence.

 

Condition

This is a fragmentary preserved hanging, with warp and weft loss and holes. The edges are fragile. There are discolorations throughout the weaving, and the color preservation is compromised. The proper right arm of the left figure has separated from the red inner field, leaving here a gap. The area below the proper left arm of the left figure is entirely missing. There is a long open slit where the blue cloak of the right figure and the red field meet. At the upper left corner, an open gap between the yellow and brown borders was crudely resewn with thick yellowish linen yarn (S6Z); this appears to be an ancient repair. Above this repair is another in lighter linen yarn (S2Z). At a more recent date, a thinner linen yarn (S2Z) was used to stitch the detached center column shaft to the red inner field.

 

Conservation history

Cleaned and stitched to a fabric-covered stretcher frame (1975); backing panel inserted (1989)

 

—Kathrin Colburn, May 2019

 
Accession numberBZ.1970.43
Attribution and Date
Egypt, ca. 6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 42.0 cm × W. (weft) 63.2 cm (16 9/16 × 24 7/8 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool

Acquisition history

Collection of the Byzantine Institute, to 1970; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

This irregularly shaped fragment preserves the top left corner of what was once a larger hanging: two sides of the border are preserved, as are details from the central field. The central area features two haloed men who face each other beneath an colonnade. The man at left wears a light blue tunic with a belt or tuck, and holds a small bowl and what appears to be a long vessel with a fluted top. The man at right wears tunic covered with a blue mantle, which holds pomegranate-shaped fruit in the drape formed in front of his shoulder; he holds a fish suspended from a chain in his hand. The outer framing border features a series of stepped and circular geometric patterns.

The Dumbarton Oaks fragment is part of a group of textiles now in Cairo, Brooklyn, Riggisberg, and Paris, all sharing features such as prominent borders and figures in jeweled arcades.Brooklyn Museum, 46.128a–b: D. Thompson, Coptic Textiles in the Brooklyn Museum (Brooklyn, 1971), 54–55, no. 22); Riggisberg, Abegg-Stiftung, inv. 1638: S. Schrenk, Textilien des Mittelmeerraumes aus spätantiker bis frühislamischer Zeit (Riggisberg, 2004), 70–73, no. 16; Cairo, Coptic Museum, inv. 8454: L. Török, After the Pharaohs: Treasures of Coptic Art from Egyptian Collections (Budapest, 2005), no. 64; Paris, Musée de Cluny, Cl. 22068: Lorquin, Les tissus coptes au Musée national du Moyen Âge – Thermes de Cluny: Catalogue des étoffes égyptiennes de lin et de laine de l’antiquité tardive aux premiers siècles de l’Islam (Paris, 1992), 188–90, no. 63; Kanegafuchi Spinning Company, fragment, in K. Akashi, Coptic Textiles from Burying Grounds in Egypt in the Collection of Kanegafuchi Spinning Company (Kyoto, 1955), 1: no. 28. The large size of these pieces suggests that they were used as furnishing textiles. In all the fragments, figures in rows are set in running arcades against deep red backgrounds, with the barest hint of landscape provided by schematic representations of greenery at the figures’ feet. These richly adorned figures wear colorful, luxurious garb evoking the togas typical of Mediterranean-style dress and the fitted tunics worn in the Persianate sphere. The haloed personages hold items evoking abundance and riches, such as baskets, boxes, rings, and fruit, bringing to mind other representations of munificence and “the good life.” Their offerings and gestures hint at possible allegorical meanings, and Sabine Schrenk has suggested that the figures on these textiles represent personifications of the seasons or months of the year.Schrenk, Textilien des Mittelmeerraumes, 70–73; citing H. Stierlin, Orient byzantin: De Constantinople à l’Arménie et de Syrie en Ethiopie (Paris, 1988), 105, fig. 95. The iconography of the textiles is probably closest to personifications depicted in the sixth-century floor mosaics at the Monastery of Lady Mary in Beth Shean (Scythopolis) where well-dressed figures identified by their Greek inscriptions as months bear emblems of seasonal bounties.For Beth Shean, see S. Hagan, “Time, Memory, and Mosaics at the Monastery of Lady Mary,” Expedition 55, no. 1 (2013): 37–42, available online at http://www.penn.museum/documents/publications/expedition/PDFs/55-1/Hagan2.pdf.

The technical qualities of this piece are also revealing when considering its production and likely use. Most of the textiles of this group feature red and undyed warps; the Dumbarton Oaks example is unusual in that it also features warps of a third color, blue. Despite their iconographic and technical similarities, there is great variety in the quality of the weaving among the related fragments. Taken together, these details suggest that the textiles were made in several interrelated workshops, with the varying quality perhaps reflecting workshop traditions or the status of their clientele. Furthermore, while these related textiles all share similar layouts and iconography in their central fields, their edges vary considerably, displaying, for instance, pearl and jewel borders (as in the Riggisberg example) or frames with geometrical patterns (as in Brooklyn). In the case of the Dumbarton Oaks fragment, the border consists of a geometric pattern of stepped and circular designs. This suggests that the textiles were not mass-produced, but rather woven to workshops’ or clients’ specifications.

—Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, May 2019

 

Notes

Accession numberBZ.1970.43
Attribution and Date
Egypt, ca. 6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 42.0 cm × W. (weft) 63.2 cm (16 9/16 × 24 7/8 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool

Acquisition history

Collection of the Byzantine Institute, to 1970; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th–9th Century, March 14–July 8, 2012.

New York, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity, February 25–May 22, 2016.

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.1970.43
Attribution and Date
Egypt, ca. 6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 42.0 cm × W. (weft) 63.2 cm (16 9/16 × 24 7/8 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool

Acquisition history

Collection of the Byzantine Institute, to 1970; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

D. Thompson, “Catalogue of Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection” (unpublished catalogue, Washington, DC, 1976), no. 52.

H. C. Evans and B. Ratliff, eds., Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th–9th Century (New York, 2012), 167–68, no. 109.

E. Dospěl Williams, “Minor Art, Major Works: An Overview of Dumbarton Oaks’ Collections of Late Antique and Medieval Textiles,” in Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity, ed. T. K. Thomas (Princeton, NJ, 2016), 108–9, fig. 2-3.4.

G. Bühl, S. Krody, E. Dospěl Williams, Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt (Washington, DC, 2019), 58-9, no. 22.

Accession numberBZ.1970.43
Attribution and Date
Egypt, ca. 6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 42.0 cm × W. (weft) 63.2 cm (16 9/16 × 24 7/8 in.)

Technique and Material

Tapestry weave in polychrome wool

Acquisition history

Collection of the Byzantine Institute, to 1970; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.