Coptic Textiles  
   Tapestry Fragments from Late Antiquity HOME
 
Indigenous Egyptian weavers during the Late Roman and Early Byzantine eras produced amazingly intricate textile art. Most of the small tapestry and soumak fragments on these pages originally decorated tunics or 'dalmatics' and were woven in wool or a combination of linen and wool. Because they were preserved in graves under extremely dry, sandy conditions, these fragments are among the earliest textiles available to collectors, as they date from the 4th through 8th centuries. They incorporate a variety of design influences, from Greco-Roman mythology to Christian symbolism. Delicate geometric interlace motifs may have been intended to protect the wearer from the 'evil eye,' while plants, animals, birds, and human figures provide charming naive decoration.

The nearly monochromatic coloring of the 1500- to 1600-year-old tapestries differs from slightly later work that uses a wider range of hues. The single wool color in most of the earliest pieces was originally a dark brownish purple--the 'royal purple' of antiquity--and in most has now faded to brown. The plain-weave tunic grounds were most often natural-colored linen. Typical tunic decoration consisted of narrow bands that extended downwards from the shoulders, pairs of bands on the sleeves, and square, oval or round tapestry inserts on the shoulders and lower front. It is fragments of these elaborate bands and inserts that have survived.  A few of the fragments originally decorated curtains, wall hangings, or shawls.  Please realize that the dates listed below are only educated guesses. The pieces are unmounted, and furnished in acid-free plastic sleeves. 

Click on the inventory numbers below to see larger photos of the textiles.  On monitors with a 1024 x 768 resolution, actual-size photos will appear on the individual linked pages, along with magnified versions or details. 









 
 



Coptic Tunic Insertion

Egypt
5th to 6th century
Linen and wool. 10.7 cm x 11 cm.
Slit tapestry
C-113
 
 




 






Coptic Roundel Tunic Insertion
Egypt.  6th to 7th century
Wool and linen.  13 cm. x 12 cm.
Slit tapestry and soumak
C-108
 
 
 
Coptic Tunic Decoration
Egypt
5th to 6th century
Wool and linen. 10 cm. x 9.5 cm.
Slit tapestry
C-102
 

Coptic Tunic Band
Egypt
5th to 6th century
Wool and linen
8.5 cm. x 24 cm.
Slit tapestry
C-133
 




 





Coptic Tunic Clavus Fragment
Egypt. 6th to 7th century
Wool and linen
7.5 cm. x 17.5 cm.
Slit tapestry
C-124
 
 




Coptic Tunic Ornament
Egypt. 5th to 6th century
Wool and linen
9.5 cm. x 12.5 cm.
Slit tapestry and soumak
C-126
 
 
 
Coptic Clavus Fragment
Egypt.  5th to 6th century
Wool and linen.
10 cm. x 34.5 cm.
Slit tapestry
 C-135
  Coptic Tunic Fragments
Egypt.  5th to 7th century
Wool and linen 
6 cm. x 24 cm.; 4 cm. x 4 cm.; 4 cm. x 4.5 cm.
Slit tapestry
C-143
 
 


Coptic Tunic or Shawl
  Band
Egypt
6th to 7th century
Wool. 10 cm. x 22 cm.
Slit tapestry
C-134
 
 
Coptic Tunic Insertion
Egypt. 6th to 7th century
Wool and linen
9.5 cm. x 8.5 cm.
Slit tapestry
C-101
 
 










Coptic Tunic Decoration
Egypt
5th to 6th century
Wool and linen.  14 cm. x 25 cm.
Tapestry and soumak
C-145
 
Among the many publications devoted to Coptic textiles, the following give good coverage to Late Roman/Early Byzantine pieces such as those above:

James Trilling, The Roman Heritage: Textiles from Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean 300 to 600 AD, Washington, 1982.

Diane Lee Carroll, Looms and Textiles of the Copts, Seattle, 1988).

Ludmila Kybalova, Coptic Textiles, London, 1967.

Marie-Helene Rutschowscaya, Coptic Fabrics, Paris, 1990.
 
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