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Ornament: Fragments of Byzantine Fashion

September 10, 2019–January 5, 2020

Excavations in the nineteenth century unearthed scores of the ornate dress textiles which wrapped the people of medieval Egypt in their graves. Ornament: Fragments of Byzantine Fashion brings together complete tunics, parts of garments, and contemporary replicas of ancient dress to evoke the fashions of this now lost world. These textiles often preserved traces of their wearers in the forms of folds and stains, providing researchers with important information about the people buried in these garments. But alongside these bodily vestiges, the decoration of these textiles reveals much about the sophistication and aesthetics of the period in which they were crafted. Often cut into pieces by dealers at the time they were sold on the art market, these fragments survive in an incomplete state that has complicated our understanding of Byzantine dress practices.

The textiles on view in this exhibition represent a small part of the holdings in the Byzantine collection, which will feature in a free digital catalogue available on the Dumbarton Oaks website. With their spectacular range of colors, patterns, and ornamental motifs, the textiles display the remarkable skill of ancient craftsman and a compellingly modern aesthetic.

This exhibition is curated by Elizabeth Dospel Williams, Assistant Curator of the Byzantine Collection, and Gudrun Bühl, Director of the Museum für Lackkunst, Münster, with assistance from Samuel Shapiro, Postgraduate Curatorial Fellow, Museum Department.

Exhibition Images

Explore further in the online Catalogue of the Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection.



Opening Event
Thursday, September 19, 6–8 p.m.

Gallery Talks

Dress and Identity in Byzantine Egypt
Saturday, September 21, 2 p.m.

Ancient Fabrics, Modern Aesthetics
Saturday, September 28, 2 p.m.

Techniques and Materials in Byzantine Textiles
Saturday, October 12, 2 p.m.

Roman, Coptic, Byzantine, Islamic: Defining Community in Medieval Egypt
Saturday, November 2, 2 p.m.




Also on View

Woven Interiors logo

August 31, 2019–January 5, 2020 | At the Textile Museum

Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt provides insight into the decoration of interior spaces of early medieval Egypt, inviting the viewer to experience stunning tapestries featuring mythical beings and intriguing iconography alongside household objects and luxurious gold jewelry.

Find out more