This grand hanging is part of a set of at least four that also included depictions of colorful columns topped by heads in medallions. The pieces were excavated from a grave where they had been used as shrouds, but several features indicate that they were originally employed as curtains. Their large scale precludes the function of clothing and the thinness of their material suggests they were meant to be seen from both sides. Depictions of architecture on contemporary mosaics often show curtains hanging between arches, suggesting that the pieces in this set may have been hung one after another in an arcade.
One of a set of four nearly identical hangings found together, this may have hung between the columns of a colonnade or in a doorway. The designs on the two columns are typical of the interest in architectural variety in the period. The small lotus branches suggest that the hangings were meant to evoke the Late Antique ideal of paradise as an enclosed garden in which lotus trees grew.
Textiles created luxurious soft architecture that enhanced the interior spaces of the ancient and medieval worlds. Evidence of this aesthetic practice can be seen in depictions of Saint Menas (cat. no. 24M in this volume [Castello Sforzesco, Milan avori n.1]) and an unidentified orant (cat. no. 24N in this volume [Thermes et Hotel de Cluny, Paris, CL.1932]), as well as in this curtain, which belong to a set of at least four. Engaging in the artistic game of mixing media, the tapestry-weave columns exhibit the "jeweled style," which also appears in paint at the Red Monastery (fig. 32 in this volume). In their probable original location, between columns, the curtains would have expanded the colonnade–but in fabric rather than stone. The absence of explicitly Christian subject matter most likely indicates that the curtain hung in a secular space, perhaps in an aristocratic house or a public building. An identical textile is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Elizabeth S. Bolman in [Evans and Ratliff 2012]
1. Annemarie Stauffer. Textiles of Late Antiquity. Exh. cat. New York, 1995, p. 7
2. For the Victoria and Albert piece (T.232-1917), see Albert F. Kendrick.Catalogue of Textiles from Burying-Grounds in Egypt, vol. 2. Period of Transition and of Christian Emblems. London, 1921, pp. 24–25, no. 341, frontispiece; Albert F. Kendrick. "Early Textiles from Damietta." The Burlington Magazine 32 (January 1918), pp. 10, 15, pl. I; Albert Gayet. Le costume en Égypte: Du IIIe au XIIIe siècle. Exh. cat. Paris, 1900, pp. 228–29, cat. nos. 471–474. The Vernay Gift to the Metropolitan Museum of Art included nineteen textiles, a number of them large hangings. One of the textiles (22.124.6) is clearly related to the present example; it has a similar braided column, a roundel containing a head, and scattered floral motifs.
Arthur S. Vernay, Inc., New York (until 1922; gifted to MMA)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Textiles of Late Antiquity," December 14, 1995–April 7, 1996, no. 1.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Late Antique Taste and Clasical Themes," November 1, 2008–November 1, 2009.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Classical Imagery in the Early Byzantine Period," November 18, 2008–January 18, 2009.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition," March 14, 2012–July 8, 2012, no. 50.
Gayet, Al. "d'Apres le Fouilles de M. Al. Gayet." In Le Costume en Egypte: du IIIe au XIIIe Siecle:, edited by Ernest Leroux. no. 472, pp. 228-229, ill. fig. 472.
Kendrick, A. F. "Early Textiles from Damietta." The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs vol. 32 (1918). no. 178, pp. 10-15, V&A's fragment of the same textile is described in: Kendrick, A.F. Catalogue of Textiles from Burying-Grounds in Egypt: Vol. II. Period of Transition and of Christian Emblems. p. 24, ill. fig. 341. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1921.
Stauffer, Annmarie. Textiles of Late Antiquity. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995. no. 1, listed p.43, ill. p. 20 (color).
McKenzie, Judith. The Architecture of Alexandria and Egypt, c. 300 BC to AD 700. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. pp. 308, 311, ill. fig. 515.
Evans, Helen C., and Brandie Ratliff, ed. Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. no. 50, pp. 80-81, ill. p. 81 (color).