This two-toned silk fragment features circular and lobed medallions composed of pairs of birds. These medallions are framed within an overall lattice pattern composed of abstracted vines, scrolls, and leaves. Numerous examples of silks such as this have been found in the cemetery at Panopolis (Akhmim) in Egypt. Large sheets of the textile were cut and applied to unadorned tunics, allowing local elites to ornament their clothing with eye-catching patterns and colors.
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Title:Textile Fragment with Vine Lattice and Birds
Geography:Attributed to Egypt, possibly Akhmim (former Panopolis)
Dimensions:Textile: L. 6 1/8 in. (15.5 cm) W. 6 3/8 in. (16.2 cm) Mat: L. 8 7/8 in. (22.5 cm) W. 12 1/16 in. (30.6 cm) D. 1/2 in. (1.3 cm)
Credit Line:Charles Stewart Smith Memorial Fund, 1915
Vine Lattice with Birds
The design known as a lattice, diaper, or diamond pattern enjoyed great popularity during Late Antiquity in Roman, Byzantine, Persian, and Islamic art, especially in textiles. A grid of diagonal lines crosses in an allover, expandable pattern. The grid may be composed of any motif. A crossing is usually marked by a distinctive motif. Here, each intersection is filled with a four-pedaled rosette within a thin circular frame; each heart-shaped petal faces a cardinal direction; and each lobe follows a different line of the grid. The diamond-shaped spaces between the grid lines are usually filled, as seen here. Several patterns found in in multiple examples, which may be distinguished by color and ornamental variations, may reflect the expected desires of consumers for distinction in serially produced items or the choices of individuals who commissioned distinct cloths.
In this more complex version of a lattice design, a vine scroll generates the grid. Within the diamond-shaped spaces, symmetrical composition of affronted birds in circles alternate with addorsed birds in eight-lobed lozenges. A vertical plant motif separates the birds along the axis of symmetry. Each compositional element can be found in a range of media: the facing birds, for example, are common on jewelry (cat. no. 132 in this volume [Benaki Museum, Athens, no. 1812]). The surface of this side of the cloth presents the lighter, beige threads against the lower ground of light red.
Several examples of this design are known, including two among the published silk finds from Panopolis (Akhmim). A number of pieces in other museum collections exhibit this composition as well. All seem to have been cut for application to tunics, and they utilize a range of color schemes (whitish or yellow against darker red, purple, or blue grounds), with minor variations in the treatment of motifs (such as, for example, whether the beaks are closed or open) and slight differences in scale. Within each cloth, minute details within a single motif diverge from the absolute symmetry that is indicative of weaving on a fully developed drawloom.
Thelma K. Thomas in [Evans and Ratliff 2012]
1. Anna Gonosová. "The Formation and Sources of Early Byzantine Floral Semis and Floral Diaper Patterns Reexamined." In Studies on Art and Archaeology in Honor of Ernst Kitzinger on His Severty-Fifth Birthday, edited by William Tronzo and Irving Lavin, pp. 227–37. Washington, D.C., 1987.
6. Robert Forrer. Römische und byzantinische Seiden-Textilien aus dem Gräber-Felde vom Achmim-Panopolis. Strassburg, 1981, pl. VIII, 4–5: examples in blue and pink.
7. The author wishes to thank Amy Hughes for sharing her unpublished research on this piece.
[ Sangiorgi Galleria, Rome, until 1915; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition," March 14–July 8, 2012, no. 99C.
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. 38.
Evans, Helen C., and Brandie Ratliff, ed. Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. no. 99C, pp. 149–51, ill. pp. 150–1.
Thomas, Thelma K. Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity. New York, 2016. no. 38, pp. 880–81, 139–40, 147, ill. figs. 1–4.2, 2–5.16.
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