Dumbarton Oaks Microsite

Fragment of a Hanging or Cover with Eight-Petal Rosette

 
Accession numberBZ.1972.2
Attribution and Date
Egypt, ca. 6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 36.4 cm × W. (weft) 41.5 cm (14 5/16 × 16 5/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Weft-loop pile in polychrome wool and undyed linen on plain-weave ground in undyed linen

Acquisition history

Collection of Royall Tyler (1884–1953), Paris; Gift of his son, William R. Tyler (1910–2003), Washington, DC, in 1972; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

Detailed dimensions

Height: 36.4 cm (warp direction)

Width: 41.5 cm (weft direction)

 

Materials

Composition: Weft-loop pile

Weft: Linen, single spun S-direction (S), 6 loops/cm, length ca. 0.3 mm–1 cm; undyed. Wool, single spun S-direction (S), 4–5 loops/cm, length ca. 0.2–0.3 cm; beige (undyed?), yellow, orange, red, pink, green, brown

 

Ground: Plain-weave with self-bands

Warp: Linen, single spun S-direction (S), 24–26/cm; undyed

Weft: Linen, single spun S-direction (S), 10–11/cm; undyed

 

Technique

Weft-loop pile on plain-weave ground

 

Discussion

The octagonal medallion of this textile was woven in weft-loop pile with colored wool and undyed linen. To create the design, the pile yarn was inserted in an open plain-weave shed. At every sixth warp, the weft was pulled to the surface of the weaving and loops were formed. The completed row of loops was kept in place with three to five undyed linen wefts that were carried across the width of the weaving and created the natural-colored plain-weave ground. There are four to five loops of short length per centimeter, resulting in a rather coarse fabric. Unevenly spaced self-bands additionally adorn the ground. The direction of the pile identifies the top of the textile fragment.

 

Condition

This is a fragment of a larger textile. It is fairly intact, although it is brittle and the edges are fragile. The length of the loops depends on their state of condition. Generally, the wool loops are worn, while the linen loops are better preserved. There are discolorations, especially in the linen ground; the color preservation of the wool weft is compromised.

 

Conservation history

Cleaned (1974); stitched to fabric-covered stretcher frame (2003)

 

—Kathrin Colburn, July 2019

 
Accession numberBZ.1972.2
Attribution and Date
Egypt, ca. 6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 36.4 cm × W. (weft) 41.5 cm (14 5/16 × 16 5/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Weft-loop pile in polychrome wool and undyed linen on plain-weave ground in undyed linen

Acquisition history

Collection of Royall Tyler (1884–1953), Paris; Gift of his son, William R. Tyler (1910–2003), Washington, DC, in 1972; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

The medallion’s design plays with optical and multidirectional alternations of propitious or protective motifs, many of which are well known on mosaic pavements.For protective motifs in geometric ornament, see H. Maguire, “How did Early Byzantine Ornament Work?,” in Graphic Signs of Identity, Faith, and Power in Late Antiquity, ed. I. Garipsanov, C. Goodson, and H. Maguire (Turnhout, 2017), 223–53, and idem, “Magic and Geometry in Early Christian Floor Mosaics and Textiles,” in Andreas Herbert Hunger zum 80, Geburtstag, ed. W. Hörandner, J. Koder, and O. Kresten (Vienna, 1994), 265–74. Many floor mosaics, although not sharing the complex concentration of this medallion pattern, share details from the same aesthetic and propitious repertories. For instance, in the fifth-century “Green Carpet Mosaic” pavement at Dumbarton Oaks from Antioch: flat, geometricized roses rhythmically repeat; an illusion of three-dimensional perspective, although separated from the rose-patterned field; and in the lateral borders, flat polygons, each framing a small square panel, which in this case has petals at its corners. K. M. D. Dunbabin, Mosaics of the Greek and Roman World (Cambridge, 1999), 177–79, and for these details, plate 30, or for more complete photographs of the perspective play: “Raised mosaic panel D from Room 1 meander border and Green Carpet,” Princeton University, Visual Resource Collection, Archaeological Archives, http://vrc.princeton.edu/archives/items/show/15835; and “Raised mosaic panel E from Room 1 meander border,” ibid., http://vrc.princeton.edu/archives/items/show/15834. Some of the squares in the side borders are filled with a checkered or banded pattern related to those found in weft-loop–pile medallions. All the medallions or roundels mentioned in this entry and its notes below, unless otherwise specified, are similar in materials and technique to BZ.1972.2. Dark- and light-toned configurations vie for dominance, in interlocking shifts of axes, nodes, and shapes, and offer an unexpected third dimension in mixed perspectives. Close up, the loops subtly pixilate the chromatic pattern; like soft mosaic tesserae, they deepen the medallion’s texture and weight. Inside the octagon, two combined geometric frameworks, easier to notice sequentially than to perceive simultaneously, fit together without merging when seen in two dimensions. Their linear dividers offer flat stability, radiating from a cruciform center; but then they can resolve jointly into complicated and unstable three-dimensional illusions.

The brighter-toned framework or system is square-based. Between the four small square fields that form the corners of an open, implied square, four small poised squares or lozenges intervene, projecting beyond the corner squares on the cardinal cross-axes. They introduce in this medallion, as in a number of others in weft-loop pile, a coded floral imagery of roses. A rosebud fills each of the outward-pointing lozenges that serve as terminals to the cross-arms, while an open rose fills each corner square. Four diagonal rays extend between the cross-arms to the corner rose-squares. The dark, alternatively radiating system centers on a star of eight lozenges, four above and four below the transverse cross-arm.

Although the medallion is self-contained and from a distance would be perceived as a large dark spot in an undyed field,Painted representations from the late antique or early Byzantine period confirm the perception. See the medallions in the four corners of a large cloth held up, full of votive gifts, by bereaved Roman parents painted in the tomb of their son, the Hypogeum of Trebius Iustus, illustrated in C. Page, The Christian West and Its Singers: The First Thousand Years (New Haven, 2010), fig. 21a, and closely paralleled in the design of such textiles with dark tapestry medallions as Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 22.764. Scenes of the Tabernacle of Moses as Christian sanctuary, illustrated in the Ashburnham Pentateuch, show how large medallions marked the top corners of curtains, as seen in color in M. H. Rutschowscaya, Coptic Fabrics (Paris, 1990), 62–63. Dark weft-loop–pile medallions with no internal patterns also existed, as evidenced by a single example of an unmarked dark loop medallion in the Musée du Louvre: P. du Bourguet Musée national du Louvre: Catalogue des étoffes coptes (Paris, 1964), 246–47, E 162, X 4529. its complex geometry has been isolated as an abstract, discrete unit taken from variable interlocking patterns spread across surfaces, in mosaic or opus sectile, on relief carvings, on painted walls, or in a textile such as one in weft-loop pile from a fifth-century burial in Antinoe.Brussels, Musées Royaux, N. 2465. The Christian goldsmith Aurelius Colluthus, identified by a document buried with him, was found with this large textile around his neck, although no aspect of its allover pattern suggests that it was originally a garment; it is covered with a grid of eight-part lozenge-shaped stars radiating between small squares framing individual open roses. Although the three-dimensional aspect presents individual bars, not radiating clusters, the carpeting of the entire textile surface with this pattern in loop pile demonstrates the versatility of design elements that have been isolated and condensed in the dark framework of the Dumbarton Oaks medallion. A. Badawy, Coptic Art and Archaeology: The Art of the Christian Egyptians from the Late Antique to the Middle Ages (Cambridge, MA, 1978) 291–93, fig. 4.74, suggests that the small blue and red cruciform units in the pattern were interpreted or designed as Christian crosses. Also unlikely to have been a garment is the large cloth with a dominant central medallion and a variant of the radiating pattern of the Dumbarton Oaks medallion appearing less elaborately detailed,as a design that emphasizes radials and a dark-on-light linear contrast, appearing in only one of the corner medallions; the patterns of the medallions are silhouetted in monochrome loop pile on this textile: F. Calament and M. Durand, Antinoe, à la vie, à la mode: visions d’élégance dans les solitudes (Lyon, 2013), 416–17, no. 167. On the Dumbarton Oaks medallion, the slight taper of one of the four arms intersecting the center argues for seeing a Christian cross enhanced by the four thin-line rays set diagonally between its arms; two red lobes at the top of each bud give them slightly inconsistent directional impulses, unlike the indexical terminals containing them, while the open roses enhance the apparent immobility of the upright squares at the corners. The square-based pattern’s colors, in undyed yarn and rosy brightness, pull in and out of tension with the darkness of the lozenge-based pattern filling the interstices defined by this bright linear structure. Accentuating the direction of each lozenge like a flash is a bright yellow-orange or whitish central accent. In addition to the radial lozenges, eight peripheral dark lozenges with similar directional accents shape the octagon’s sides, each forming half of two adjoining sides of the medallion, and adding a rotational impulse to the active sequence of optical effects. If the gaze adjusts itself further, the rose squares and the rosebud lozenges can become the lit faces of shadowed, solid blocks in polyvalent competition for ownership of the lozenges forming their sides.

Four converging perspective blocks lead the eye to and from the center of the cross. The same illusion fills a small panel under the portrait of Apolausis (enjoyment or well-being) wearing a rose garland under her head-covering and holding a rosebud, in the late fourth- to early fifth-century Antioch bath floor mosaic at Dumbarton Oaks.Washington, DC, Dumbarton Oaks, BZ.1938.72, http://museum.doaks.org/Obj30420. The multiperspective vanishing point in the panel centered below her makes her a visual focus while lending her the depth of field lacking in the two-dimensional grid surrounding her. The effect of the four-block illusion inside the textile medallion likewise increases the suggestion of depth, intensifying the contrast with the surrounding airiness of the thin linen plain weave.

Enriched by the subtlety of this design, the medallion marked a focal point for the complete original textile when it was in use. Its pale lines cross a dark field that evoked the high status of true purple, or, on interior walls, the dark marble of opus sectile, embellished with colorful inlays, as in the champlevé technique.Geometric patterns favored for sectile floors inlaid with marble were developed in the Roman period, and contributed to the development of mural sectile designs not only in marble, but also in glass (although glass survivals are relatively rare); see Dunbabin, Mosaics, 254–56, and at fig. 272 the underlying radial pattern of a star-polygon motif in the paving of Hadrian’s Villa; in glass, A. Oliver, “A Glass Opus Sectile Panel from Corinth,” Hesperia 70, no. 3 (2001): 349–63, in which a flat eight-pointed star of two squares frames the inner medallion, in which swimming fish introduce the illusion of depth. A repertory of geometric pseudo-sectile medallions to be painted on walls, at dado level, circulated in Egypt well into the Byzantine period; for such patterns in a chapel of the Roman imperial cult, see I. Kalavrezou-Maxeiner, “The Imperial Chamber at Luxor.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 29 (1975): 225–51. A large medallion from hall 6 of the Monastery of Apollo at Bawit (now at the Coptic Museum, Cairo, inv. 8438) features, as a repeated motif painted on mud plaster, a configuration readable either as a flat eight-part lozenge-star, or with the illusion of three dimensions as four radially converging blocks like those described in relation to the Apolausis mosaic in the note preceding this one; illustrated in color in G. Gabra and M. Eaton-Krauss, The Treasures of Coptic Art in the Coptic Museums and Churches of Old Cairo (Cairo, 2006), 88, fig. 58. The work, which treats the pattern as infinitely extendible rather than centered within the medallion, was notable enough for the painters of this room to be named in inscriptions: John, Elia, and Papnoute. On a textile the mathematical symmetry of the internal pattern in such medallions is appropriate to the function of guiding, orderly folding, or draping so as to center the persons or ritual objects or actions the textile serves. Hinting further at this textile’s date and function, dark medallions or panels near bracketed or outspread corners, especially in the fifth and sixth centuries, appear as centering motifs on persons in depictions of curtains, either held open or hanging loose in front of an entrance;The panels near the corners of the curtains in the mosaic portraits around the apse at Sant’Apollinare in Classe assure that the draping evenly frames the standing figures in a carefully shaped space, as seen here for Bishop Ursus, the upper panels drawing attention to the crown above his head, and the lower ones to his hands holding the empowering book: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: Ravenna,_basilica_di_Sant%27Apollinare_in_Classe_(050).jpg. in representations of ceremonial tables;See, in mosaic at the Sepphoris Synagogue, the staging role of the four-square placement of the medallions on the cloth covering a circular showbread table, R. Hachlili, The Menorah: Evolving into the Most Important Jewish Symbol (Leiden, 2018), 5–20, fig. 1-12a. on bedding;Illustrations in the Vienna Genesis, Vienna Theol. Gr. 31, make it clear that focal points woven into a variety of furnishing textiles served to stage the placement of persons as well as of things. See for example, fol. 4v (or pic./fig. 8 in the old numbering of this manuscript): B. Zimmermann, Die Wiener Genesis im Rahmen der antiken Buchmalerei: Ikonographie, Darstellung, Illustrationsverfahren und Aussageintention (Wiesbden, 2003), 99–101, color plate 8 and fig. 59: Abraham sleeps between the dark medallions on the bedcover, the four focal points stretched toward the bed’s four corners and wrapped around his curved mattress to frame his person in comfort. They are positioned as if to guide the bedmaker as well the sleeper, who might be reminded to stay centered by a difference in texture between the placement-medallions and the bedcover itself. Where they fold around the depth of the mattress they meet and complement the stylish bedframe’s baluster legs and dolphin fulcrum. On the bed of the dreaming Pharaoh in fol. 18r (pic./fig. 35 in the old numbering), ibid., 166–68, plate 27 and fig. 61, a different detail coordinates the placement of the soft furnishings with the human body: a dark (but now damaged) medallion on the cloth draped over his bedstead has been aligned with the dark shoulder medallion of his tunic, a detail visible online at https://digitalcommons.acu.edu/ferguson_photos/2263/. These scenes suggest a high level of luxury, but bedding could apparently be considered essential even in a monastery: D. L. Brooks Hedstrom mentions “mattresses, pillows, lamps, hooks, blankets, and books” as all being present in monastic sleeping quarters: The Monastic Landscape of Late Antique Egypt: An Archaeological Reconstruction (Cambridge, 2017), 278. and, in narrative illustrations, on the curved mattress or the draped cloth spread over the bed frame under the mattress of a luxurious bed, and even on the corner of a cloth centering the saddle on a donkey’s back.The saddlecloth, and therefore the saddle and the rider, are properly aligned and squared by the corner panel on the cloth, again in the Vienna Genesis (see preceding note), on fol. 12r (pic./fig. 23 in the old numbering): Zimmermann, Die Wiener Genesis, 143–44, plate 15; or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ViennGenFol12vJacob.jpg.

Four circular, dark-ground, rose-centered medallions in weft-loop pile on a surviving textile in the Katoen Natie collection, large enough to cover a bed mattress or to hang before a narrow doorway, give an idea of how many of the now-isolated weft-loop pile medallions may have appeared in context before being cut out. These medallions, near the textile’s outer corners, have a simpler rose-and-square–based geometric designs without the lozenge-star or the three-dimensional play of the Dumbarton Oaks octagon.Antwerp, Katoen Natie, inv. 515 (DM34), described as a “linen cloth (bedspread?) with woollen weft-loop decoration reused as a shroud,” in A. De Moor and C. Fluck, “Textiles and Architecture—An Introduction,” 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), 8–15, fig. 2, and captioned as “Mantle or covering reused as a shroud, with pile decoration, openwork, and stripes, 266 × 140 cm,” in C. Fluck and G. Helmecke, “Egypt’s Post-Pharaonic Textiles,” in Coptic Civilization: Two Thousand Years of Christianity in Egypt, ed. G. Gabra (Cairo, 2014), 246, fig.18.14. Outside the medallions two horizontal lines of rosebuds, one above and one below, subtly bracket them in a zone across the top of the textile and another at the bottom, underlined by the ripples of a stylized undulating rose (?) vine across the textile’s full width. The four corner medallions contrast with a fifth focal unit at the center of the textile, which has a distinctive shape, as a star of two squares, and no dark tonality. Signs of wear suggest that this central star-panel may have indicated where the textile, if it was used as a curtain, was to be gathered back and bound by a tie. Without any more of the original Dumbarton Oaks textile than now surrounds the lone but inwardly complex medallion, though, its specific function is unknown. The apotropaic and honorific aspects of the cross, the roses, and the hint of a rotational “magic star” of spokes with terminals would have been suitable as guardian ciphers at an entrance or on bedding, as well as in reuse for wrapping the deceased in burial. We can say only that this densely textured, prophylactic, visually complex yet deceptively minimalist medallion provided a soft furnishing with a functionally useful still point on which geometry enacts a time-based optical performance, “Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,/But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity.”T. S. Eliot, Burnt Norton, lines 63–64. I thank Daniel Samuel for immediately perceiving over a cup of tea at the Warburg Institute the undated and unattributed medallion’s design from a Neoplatonic perspective, and by seeing its mobility in immobility, intuitively understanding its function in the broadest sense, when he described it through these lines from T. S. Eliot’s 1935 Burnt Norton. A possible area for future study might be to bring textile design into an exploration of the lasting Coptic interest in Proclus in relation to the chronology of abstract, nonfigural visual design in Coptic manuscripts and their bindings beyond the Byzantine period.

—Eunice Dauterman Maguire, September 2019

 

Notes

Accession numberBZ.1972.2
Attribution and Date
Egypt, ca. 6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 36.4 cm × W. (weft) 41.5 cm (14 5/16 × 16 5/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Weft-loop pile in polychrome wool and undyed linen on plain-weave ground in undyed linen

Acquisition history

Collection of Royall Tyler (1884–1953), Paris; Gift of his son, William R. Tyler (1910–2003), Washington, DC, in 1972; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

D. Thompson, “Catalogue of Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection” (unpublished catalogue, Washington, DC, 1976), no. 26.

Accession numberBZ.1972.2
Attribution and Date
Egypt, ca. 6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 36.4 cm × W. (weft) 41.5 cm (14 5/16 × 16 5/16 in.)

Technique and Material

Weft-loop pile in polychrome wool and undyed linen on plain-weave ground in undyed linen

Acquisition history

Collection of Royall Tyler (1884–1953), Paris; Gift of his son, William R. Tyler (1910–2003), Washington, DC, in 1972; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.