Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Fragment of a Cover with Geometric and Interlace Decoration

Object Name:
Fragment of a cover
Date:
5th century
Geography:
Attributed to Egypt
Medium:
Wool, linen; plain weave, tapestry weave
Dimensions:
Textile: L. 25 9/16 in. (64.9 cm) W. 38 3/16 in. (97 cm) Mount: L. 30 in. (76.2 cm) W. 43 1/2 in. (110.5 cm) D. 1 1/4 in. (3.2 cm)
Classification:
Textiles
Credit Line:
Gift of George F. Baker, 1890
Accession Number:
90.5.807
Not on view
This fragment was perhaps part of a cover originally decorated with identical ornamentation at each end. The richly colored geometric patterns are filled with plant forms reminiscent of Dionysian imagery. The eight-pointed stars formed from overlaid squares may have been meant to offer magical protection to its owner.
Finely woven, this light green and purple fabric fragment has an intricate pattern of vine scrolls and geometric interlace patterns, motifs prevalent in all media from monumental floor mosaics to textiles during Byzantine rule of the eastern Mediterranean. Here grapevines emerge from small, ornate pots at each side of the fabric to fill two large canted squares and extend on to join in a small grape-leaf-filled medallion at the center of the field. The grapevine- filled squares are each overlaid with a square and a medallion filled with geometric interlace to form two eight-pointed stars. Both the elaborate pattern and the thin red border at the fringed end of the fragment were probably repeated at the other end of the textile; fringe also appears along one side of the fabric. While the scale of this fragment suggests that it may have been a domestic covering, a similar eight-pointed star in Berlin has been described as part of a tunic.[1] Grapevines were popular symbols of fertility and productivity; the intricate patterns of the two stars may have been meant to protect by diverting the evil eye.[2]
Like most textiles from Egypt of the Byzantine era, this piece of fabric was probably used for the wrapping of a body for burial; both clothing and domestic furnishings were employed in the process. The term Coptic was long applied to these works, as the textiles were thought to have all been woven by native Egyptians who were members of the Coptic Church, the Egyptian Christian church. It is now recognized that these textiles include many imported works and reflect patterns popular throughout the Byzantine Empire.[3] The exceptional quality of this fragment suggests an awareness of the luxury goods produced north of Egypt in Syria.[4] In later centuries, eight-pointed stars would be a motif widely used in Islamic art.
Helen Evans in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Footnotes:
1. Museum fur Spätantike und Byzantinische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (no. 9239a). See Hamm and other cities 1996–98. Ägypten, Schätze aus dem Wüstensand: Kunst und Kulture der Christen am Nil. Exhibition, Gustav-Lubcke-Museum der Stadt Hamm and other venues. Catalogue by Arne Effenberger and others. Wiesbaden, 1996. , pp. 346–47, no. 395c.
2. Hoskins, Nancy Arthur. The Coptic Tapestry Albums and the Archaeologist of Antinoé, Albert Gayet. Seattle, 2004. pp. 101–2; Stauffer 1995, pp. 13–14; Maguire, Henry. "Garments Pleasing to God: The Significance of Domestic Textile Designs in the Early Byzantine Period." Dumbarton Oaks Papers 44 (1990), pp. 215–24, figs. 1–36.
3. Thomas, Thelma K. "Coptic and Byzantine Textiles Found in Egypt: Corpora, Collections, and Scholarly Perspectives." In Egypt in the Byzantine World, 300–700, edited by Roger S. Bagnall, pp. 137–62. New York and London, 2007; Stauffer 1995, pp. 5–15; Gonosova, Anna. "Textiles." In Beyond the Pharaohs: Egypt and the Copts in the Second to the Seventh Centuries A.D., pp. 65–72. Exhibition, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, R.I. Catalogue by Florence D. Friedman and others. Providence, R.I., 1989.
4. Stauffer 1995, p. 9.
Emil Brugsch-Bey, Cairo (until 1890; sold to Baker); George F. Baker, New York (1890; gifted to MMA)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Textiles of Late Antiquity," December 14, 1995–April 7, 1996, no. 49.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Selections from the George F. Baker Gift, 1890," June 13, 2011–August 5, 2012.

Stauffer, Annmarie. Textiles of Late Antiquity. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995. no. 49, pp. 25, 47, ill. p. 25 (color).

Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 24, pp. 46-47, ill. p. 46 (color).



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