Tunics decorated with red background motifs were popular at the end of the Byzantine era in Egypt and during the first centuries of Islamic rule. The bright colors, bold schematic figures, and contrasting vegetal tracery of the ornamental insets give this fine woolen tunic a strong visual appeal. The designs are derived from classical motifs. Separately woven geometrically patterned woolen bands are attached to the hem and cuffs.
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rondel on right
detail of lower left roundel
detail showing clavi
detail showing sleeve bands
detail of lower roundel
detail of hem band
detail of front clavi
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Title:Richly Decorated Tunic
Date:660–870 (radiocarbon date, 95% probability)
Geography:Said to be from Egypt, Tuna al-Gebel
Medium:Wool; tapestry weave
Dimensions:Textile (including sleeves): H. 79 1/8 in. (201 cm) W. 46 7/8 in. (119.1 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Maurice Nahman, 1912
Tunic with Red-Ground Ornaments Featuring Late Antique Motifs
The bright colors, bold schematic figures, and contrasting vegetal tracery of the ornamental insets give this fine woolen tunic a strong visual appeal. Discoloration at the hem and cuffs shows where separately woven geometrically patterned woolen tapes were once attached (see page 46 in this volume).
Richly Decorated Tunic
The garment clearly demonstrates how the decoration of tunics developed from Late Antiquity to Early Islamic times. The patterns and motifs of Late Antique tunics are usually based on a contrast between light and dark (cat. nos. 110 [Brooklyn Museum, New York 41.523], and 111 [MMA 27.239] in this volume). In the Byzantine and Early Islamic period, however, they grew increasingly colorful, with symmetrical, polychrome figures and other motifs, often on red backgrounds, becoming very popular.
Over time, the manufacturing processes of the decorative elements also changed. Rather than being woven directly into a garment’s ground fabric, they were, for reasons of economy, produced separately in sets that were later sewn into the tunic.
The Metropolitan Museum’s tunic has a band with a repeat pattern of lozenges filled with rosettes applied on the cuffs and at the lower edge. The remaining decoration is woven into the ground fabric. The vertical stripes (clavi) are divided into rectangles with palmettes rendered on a bright ground. The same figures occur on the sleeve bands. The roundels (orbiculi) on the body and the medallions in the center of the sleeve bands show horsemen, cupids, and other figures in an abstract movement vaguely reminiscent of dancers. The quality of the tunic’s ground fabric and of the figures and motifs–despite the highly stylized rendering–testifies to the weaver’s great technical skill.
It is worth noting that another tunic in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection is almost identical, except for an additional band around the neck slit.
A similar tunic in the Katoen Natie Collection, Antwerp, with woven-in decorations in tapestry weave and applied weft-pattern bands has been radiocarbon dated recently to the seventh to eighth century. This supports the results obtained for the present tunic.
Cäcilia Fluck in [Evans and Ratliff 2012]
2. The Christian interpretations of the figures suggested by Maurice S. Dimand. "Coptic Tunics in the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum Studies 2, no. 2 (May 1930), esp. pp. 246–47, is doubtful.
3. 12.185.3; see Dimand 1930 (note 2), fig. 18; Dauterman Maguire, Eunice, Henry P. Maguire, and Maggie J. Duncan-Flowers. Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House. Exh. cat. Urbana, Ill., 1989, p. 144, cat. no. 68.
4. De Moor, Antoine, Chris Cerhecken-Lammens, and André Verhecken. 3500 jaar textielkunst: De collective art in headquarters. Tielt, 2008, pp. 188–89.
Maurice Nahman, Cairo (until 1912; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Textiles of Late Antiquity," December 14, 1995–April 7, 1996, no. 43.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition," March 14–July 8, 2012, no. 112.
Stauffer, Annmarie. Textiles of Late Antiquity. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995. no. 43, pp. 28, 46, 47, ill. p. 28 (color), p. 46 (b/w).
Evans, Helen C., and Brandie Ratliff, ed. Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. no. 112, pp. 169–70, ill. (color).
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