Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Coptic Tapestries

While it is usual to think that people in antiquity went around clad in brilliant white clothing, or perhaps imperial purple, in fact they wore multi-coloured clothes as well. Coptic textiles such as these depicted here were applied to a particular garment - the tunic - as patches, strips or medallions. They would also have been used in larger textiles such as interior furnishing. These Coptic tapestries depict Ariadne and Dionysus (both 5th century CE), and Ge and the personification of the Nile (both 2nd century CE). Indeed these are both quite late dates and well into the Christian era, however they give an idea as to what was possible in ancient textiles. While the Aegean has an unsuitable climate for preserving textiles, Egypt has an excellent one! Coptic textiles are usually excavated from funerary contexts. The often have no provenance, or provenience, because of unregulated excavating performed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. If you're interested in ancient textiles I recommend Elizabeth Barber's books "Prehistoric Textiles" (Princeton, 1991) and "Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years" (Norton, 1994).

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