Dumbarton Oaks Microsite

Fragment of a Hanging or Cover

 
Accession numberBZ.2010.070
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 5th–6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 48.0 cm × W. (weft) 45.0 cm (18 7/8 × 17 11/16 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

Collection of Theodor Graf (1840–1903), Austria; Austrian private collection, 1970s; Christie’s Auction House; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC., purchase, June 2010.

Detailed dimensions

Height: 48.0 cm (warp direction)

Width: 45.0 cm (weft direction)

Tapestry-woven square: 28.5 × 29.0 cm

 

Materials

Composition: Tapestry weave

Warp: Linen, single spun S-direction (S), alternating paired and tripled, 6–8/cm; undyed

Weft: Wool, single spun S-direction (S), 30–64/cm; red, orange, yellow, pink, purple, green. Linen, single spun S-direction (S), 44–52/cm; undyed.

 

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

Warp: Linen, single spun S-direction (S), 20–24/cm; undyed

Weft: Linen, single spun S-direction (S), 9–10/cm; undyed

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

Sewing thread: Linen, single spun S-direction (S) and 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 dark purple grounds) and pink wool (such as in the purple grapevines). The blue weft in some selected areas in the inner square were woven with yarn consisting of light blue, dark blue, and purple fibers combined.

Weft-loop pile in undyed linen surrounds the tapestry-woven square. 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, three supplementary linen wefts were placed in the same pile row, creating self-bands, followed by three to four linen wefts that formed the undecorated, natural-colored plain-weave ground. The sides of the tapestry-woven square were stitched along their selvages to the remainder of the weaving with whipstitches in undyed linen.

 

Condition

This is a fragment of a larger textile. There is warp and weft loss throughout, particularly along the left edge and the lower right quarter of the tapestry woven square. Here, much of the wool weft has deteriorated and exposes the linen warp. The supplementary weft in linen is abraded and in other areas missing. The cut edges are fragile. Areas woven in weft loop pile display discolorations and soiling. The linen thread used to stitch the selvedges to the remainder of the weaving is partially missing. A comparison of the textile from the obverse and reverse shows that the color preservation of the wool weft is better on the reverse.

 

Conservation history

Removal from a backing and placed on a fabric covered support board (2010)

 

—Kathrin Colburn, August 2019

 
Accession numberBZ.2010.070
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 5th–6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 48.0 cm × W. (weft) 45.0 cm (18 7/8 × 17 11/16 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

Collection of Theodor Graf (1840–1903), Austria; Austrian private collection, 1970s; Christie’s Auction House; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC., purchase, June 2010.

A square tapestry panel is inserted into a linen loop-pile weave. At the center of the fragment is a crux ansata in an orange-ochre color with a yellow dot in the loop. The motif appears within a dark purple circle at the center of a larger circle with a radial arrangement of alternating amphorae and baskets, from which vine tendrils emerge. These motifs surrounding the crux ansata are woven in dark purple, with details carried out with a fine thread on a light-colored background. Vine leaves and little scrolls fill the spandrels between the circle and the square that frames it. The central design is surrounded by a wide band occupied by twelve interlocked circles in dark purple. The four circles in the corners enclose orange-ochre baskets containing different fruits or flowers in red, white, green, dark purple, and pink.

The remaining eight circles contain grapevines rendered in green and dark purple. Interspaces are filled with red and green leaves. The panel is framed by a series of dark purple half-circles bearing a filigree geometric ornament.

As expressions of prosperity and abundance, amphorae and baskets with vine branches and/or fruits are rich with Dionysian associations are among the most popular motifs on late antique tapestries from Egypt. They decorate household fabrics and clothing alike. In combination with a cross the vine gets a Christian connotation and becomes a symbol of resurrection. Here the cross takes the shape of the crux ansata, a cross with a loop above the horizontal beam, which developed from the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph “ankh,” meaning eternal life. Comparable tapestries showing a combination of the amphora-vine motif and a cross are found in Geneva and London, and numerous other fragments share similar technical, iconographic, or ornamental features.Geneva, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, inv. D876 (probably from a tunic): M. Martiniani-Reber, Tissus coptes (Geneva, 1991), 1:56, no. 100; 2:29, no. 100. London, Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. 355-1890 (from a tunic): A. F. Kendrick, Period of Transition and of Christian Emblems, vol. 2 of Catalogue of Textiles from Burying-Grounds in Egypt (London, 1921), 12, no. 308, plate III. A piece in Düsseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, inv. 12683, lacks amphorae, but depicts both vine and cross; S. Hodak, Figürliche und ornamentale Purpur- und Buntwirkereien, vol. 2 of Die koptischen Textilien im Museum Kunst Palast Düsseldorf (Wiesbaden, 2010), 111–14, no. 20, plate 12. For a square tapestry with amphora and vine motifs inserted in a loop-pile weave, see Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, O.22198: P. Linscheid, Die frühbyzantinischen Textilien des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums (Mainz, 2016), 91, no. 66, plates 48.3–4. For a rectangular tapestry panel with large crux ansata surrounded by amphorae with vine and tendril, see London, Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. 259-1890: Kendrick, Period of Transition, 18, no. 327, plate X (probably from a hanging). For tapestry bands with cross between vine and birds, see London, Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. 1329-1888, 279-1891: ibid., 12, no. 307, plate II, and 14, no. 313, plate V (both from a tunic). For a similar interior framing zone, see London, Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. 746-1886: A. F. Kendrick, Graeco-Roman Period, vol. 1 of Catalogue of Textiles from Burying-Grounds in Egypt (London, 1920), 64, no. 56, plate XV; Krefeld, Deutsches Textilmuseum, inv. 00109: M. von Falck, ed., Ägypten: Schätze aus dem Wüstensand; Kunst und Kultur der Christen am Nil; Katalog zur Ausstellung (Wiesbaden, 1996), 312–13, no. 354, and A. Paetz gen. Schieck, Aus Gräbern geborgen: Koptische Textilien aus eigener Sammlung (Krefeld, 2003), 100, no. 207; Düsseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, inv. 12686: K.-H. Brune, Wirkereien mit figürlichen Motiven, vol. 1 of Die koptischen Textilien im Museum Kunst Palast Düsseldorf (Wiesbaden, 2004), 36, no. 8; Düsseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, inv. 12684: Hodak, Purpur- und Buntwirkereien, 160–64, no. 35, plate 19.

When the surrounding ground weave is missing, it is often not possible to determine with certainty whether the tapestry originally decorated a tunic or a furnishing textile. A smaller size (less than twenty centimeters) usually speaks for a fragment being a tunic decoration, but this cannot be taken as a rule. Like BZ.1953.2.89, the present example was once part of a furnishing textile, most likely a mattress covering or floor covering. Among tapestry weaves surrounded by weft pile it is exceptional because of the Christian symbol in the center of the tapestry decoration, which is usually occupied by secular figures (such as dancers, as in BZ.1953.2.89, or horsemen) or by heraldic motifs.See examples referenced in catalogue entry for BZ.1953.2.89, n9.

At present, only one other loop-pile fabric with a Christian motif in the tapestry decoration is known; it depicts the apostles Peter and Paul, who are identified by an inscription.Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, inv. 6847: C. Fluck, “Frammento di tela con raffigurazione di Pietro e Paolo,” in Pietro e Paolo. La storia, il culto, la memoria nei primi secoli, ed. A. Donati (Milan, 2000), 145, 215–16, no. 68.

—Cäcilia Fluck, May 2019

 

Notes

Accession numberBZ.2010.070
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 5th–6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 48.0 cm × W. (weft) 45.0 cm (18 7/8 × 17 11/16 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

Collection of Theodor Graf (1840–1903), Austria; Austrian private collection, 1970s; Christie’s Auction House; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC., purchase, June 2010.

Washington, DC, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Cross References, March 26–July 31, 2011.

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.2010.070
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 5th–6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 48.0 cm × W. (weft) 45.0 cm (18 7/8 × 17 11/16 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

Collection of Theodor Graf (1840–1903), Austria; Austrian private collection, 1970s; Christie’s Auction House; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC., purchase, June 2010.

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), 110, fig. 2-3.5.

G. Bühl, S. Krody, E. Dospěl Williams, Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt (Washington, DC, 2019), 90-1, no. 33.

Accession numberBZ.2010.070
Attribution and Date
Egypt, 5th–6th c.
Measurements

H. (warp) 48.0 cm × W. (weft) 45.0 cm (18 7/8 × 17 11/16 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

Collection of Theodor Graf (1840–1903), Austria; Austrian private collection, 1970s; Christie’s Auction House; Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC., purchase, June 2010.