This small tapestry panel comes from Egypt. It was originally used as an appliqué on a larger textile, probably as part of a set. Egypt had a major weaving (especially linen) industry throughout the ancient and medieval period, which brought the country a great deal of its trade and wealth. Unlike the textiles of other cultures, many of these pieces have been preserved by Egypt's hot, dry climate, which prevents rotting.
Personifications of the seasons were thought to represent prosperity. The pink blossoms suggest that this figure is Spring.
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Title:Tabula (Square) with the Head of Spring
Geography:Attributed to Egypt, Akhmim (former Panopolis)
Dimensions:Textile: H. 9 1/4 in. (23.5 cm) W. 9 13/16 in. (25 cm) Mount: H. 15 5/8 in. (39.7 cm) W. 15 5/8 in. (39.7 cm) D. 1 3/8 in. (3.5 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of George F. Baker, 1890
This small intact wool tapestry panel with blue background presents a bust of a woman haloed and turned in a moderate three-quarter view. The folds of her mantle are held high and filled with pink and red blossoms. Her face, dominated by large outlined eyes and eyebrows, is small and round, its shape stressed by the simple modeling along the chin, cheekbones, and nose. Her short hair is tied above the forehead with a pearl-studded headband. The weaving of the panel proceeded in the direction of the design.
This panel was originally used as an appliqué for a larger textile, probably as one of a set of such panels. Its prominantly displayed blossoms help in identifying the figure as a personification of Spring. Although in the past it has been referred to as Ceres and Goddess Earth, these goddesses are usually portrayed with a richer selection of Nature's bounty, while roses and blossoms are one of the principal symbols of Spring.
This tapestry panel can be dated to the late 4th to early 5th century. Its three-dimensional, but simple and clearly defined forms appear almost as pure geometric shapes, only minimally disturbed by the demands of such surface detail as facial articulation characteristic of the Theodosian period (i.e. from the end of the 4th through the middle of the 5th century). Seasons are typically shown holding their attributes in a cloth or even, as here, in the folds of their mantles. As a motif associated with prosperity and continuous good fortune, Seasons and their symbols are frequently used in Late Antique domestic art, including textiles (e.g. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 66.377, .378, cat. 35 in this volume).
Anna Gonosova in [Friedman 1989]
Square with a Head of Spring
The goddess Ge, or Earth, and personifications of the seasons were depicted in Late Antique domestic art for their associations with good fortune and prosperity. Here the youthful woman raising her mantle overflowing with fresh blossoms is probably Spring.
Emil Brugsch-Bey, Cairo (until 1890; sold to Baker); George F. Baker, New York (1890; gifted to MMA)
Providence, RI. Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. "Beyond the Pharaohs: Egypt and the Copts in the 2nd to 7th Centuries A.D.," February 10, 1989–April 16, 1989, no. 37.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Textiles of Late Antiquity," December 14, 1995–April 7, 1996, no. 9.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Panopolis and Classical Themes," November 1, 2000–December 1, 2001.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Panopolis and Classical Themes," December 6, 2005–September 24, 2008.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Design Motifs in Byzantine Art," August 5, 2013–August 3, 2014.
New York. Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University. "Designing Identity: Gender and Power in Late Antique Textiles," February 25, 2016–May 22, 2016, no. 44.
Clarke, C. Purdon. "A Piece of Egyptian Tapestry." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 2, no. 10 (1907). pp. 161–62.
Friedman, Florence D. "Egypt and the Copts in the 2nd to 7th Centuries AD." In Beyond the Pharaohs. Providence, R.I.: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1989. no. 37, p. 127, ill. (b/w).
Stauffer, Annmarie. Textiles of Late Antiquity. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995. no. 9, pp. 32, 44, ill. p. 32 (color).
Eisenberg, Jerome M. "The New Byzantine Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Minerva 12, no. 3 (2001). pp. 26–27, ill. 12.
Evans, Helen C. "The Arts of Byzantium." Metropolitan Museum of Arts Bulletin (2001). pp. 5, 25, ill. (color).
Thomas, Thelma K. Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity. New York, 2016. no. 44, pp. 32, 34, 134–35, 147, ill. figs. 1–1.12, 2–5.7.
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