Press release

Buried Finds: Textile Collectors in Egypt
Through July 15, 2012

Location: Antonio Ratti Textile Center

Eighteen late Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic textile fragments or groupings of fragments from Egypt are on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Antonio Ratti Textile Center through July 15. The installation Buried Finds: Textile Collectors in Egypt focuses on the Museum’s history of collecting Egyptian Byzantine textiles and on two of the most renowned collectors in the field, Dikran Garabed Kelekian (1868–1951) and Theodor Graf (1840–1903).

From about 1880 to 1930, large quantities of textiles from the late Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic periods were excavated, mainly from burials in Egyptian cemeteries, by people of various backgrounds, including archaeologists—both professionally trained and amateur—and also dealers and collectors. As a result, thousands of fragments and relatively few complete textiles were excavated, with scanty evidence regarding find sites and burial context. In addition, many damaged or poorly preserved textiles were trimmed to increase their appeal, further limiting the information that could be gleaned from them.

Among late 19th- and early 20th-century collectors, a frequently used organizational technique was to sew the textile into albums composed of paper boards, often several fragments to a page. This practice was adopted from the textile industry, which used presentation portfolios grouped by fabric, color, and pattern. The installation includes two examples of pages from a textile album.

By the beginning of the 20th century, textiles from Late Antique Egypt came to be seen as important to the history of Byzantine art, and the bold colors and patterns attracted the admiration of modern artists such as Henri Matisse (1869–1954) and Auguste Rodin (1840–1917).

Two major collectors who led the way in the appreciation of these textiles were Dikran Kelekian and Theodor Graf. The influence of Dikran Kelekian in the history of collecting in the late 19th and early 20th century, especially in the United States, cannot be overstated. In addition to modern art, he collected Islamic art, including early textiles. With his brother, he established antiques shops in New York, Paris, London, and Cairo. Many works from his collection entered the Metropolitan Museum.

Theodor Graf was one of the most important dealers of Egyptian antiquities of the late 19th and early 20th century. He was among the earliest antiquarians to search for antiquities from the late Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic period and he too provided many works that entered the Metropolitan Museum.

The installation was organized by Brandie Ratliff, Research Associate for Byzantine Art, with Helen C. Evans, the Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator of Byzantine Art, Department of Medieval Art, both of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Buried Finds: Textile Collectors in Egypt complements the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (March 14–August 8, 2012).

Major support for the exhibition has been provided by Mary and Michael Jaharis, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and The Hagop Kevorkian Fund.

Additional support has been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Established in 1995, the Antonio Ratti Textile Center at the Metropolitan Museum is one of the largest, most technically advanced, and well-equipped centers for the study, storage, and conservation of textiles in any art museum. Objects from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection of textiles are featured, on a rotating basis, in a small gallery at the entrance of the center.

The Center was made possible by a major grant from the Fondazione Antonio Ratti (Antonio Ratti Foundation) of Como, Italy. Additional support was provided by the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation, Toyota Motor Corporation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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April 9, 2012

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