This Week’s Featured Object: A Framed Coptic Egyptian Textile 5th – 7th Century AD

CA-12-228

This large and impressive textile, our Object of the Week, is a fragment from a Coptic Egyptian garment and features complex geometric and foliate designs. Thanks to exceptionally dry conditions, many types of artifacts made from perishable materials that would not survive elsewhere are common finds on Egyptian archaeological sites. Between the late 18th and early 20th Century great numbers of ancient Egyptian textile fragments from all periods were retrieved by local Egyptian treasure hunters and artifacts dealers for sale to foreign visitors, by foreigners conducting their own ad-hoc “excavations” and by archaeologists, often excavating using methods that would by today’s standards be considered little more than treasure hunting.

While textiles of all types, from the most humble garments to the most elaborate, and from every period of Egypt’s long history have been preserved in the dry environment, Coptic textiles are a class unto themselves. In common parlance, use of the term “Coptic” here refers both to the time period from which these textiles date – corresponding to the roughly 300 year period of Byzantine rule in Egypt – and the Christian culture that created them, as the Coptic Church, still very much alive today in Egypt, gives its name to both the ancient and modern Coptic culture. This uniquely Coptic textile style continued on in Egypt long after the Islamic conquest of the 7th Century AD.

Many Coptic textile fragments, and in some cases entire garments, have since found their way into museum collections. This has somewhat reduced the number of high quality examples available on the legitimate art market. But many fine examples can be acquired from the major London and New York auction houses and reputable antiquities dealers in Europe and the North America.

This example is tapestry woven in black (now appearing purple) with red details on a cream ground, with two parallel strips of mostly foliate and geometric patterning, including remains of a few figural elements contained in lozenges. The fragment has been professionally mounted on a linen backing and very neatly framed and is suitable for hanging. It was acquired on the Swedish art market in December, 2009 and was formerly in a late 19th – early 20th Century Cairo collection. It dates from the 5th to 7th Century AD, and has the following dimensions: 27.9 x 17.8 cm (11 x 7 in.); 17 x 13.5 inches with the frame   For related examples, see the Rietz Collection of Coptic textiles in the California Academy of Sciences, online catalog numbers CAS 0389-2421 and CAS 0389-2416.

CA-12-228 - Copy

For those interested in acquiring this object, you may do so on our Etsy site here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/262372123/framed-coptic-egyptian-textile-fragment

Or our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Framed-Coptic-Egyptian-Textile-Fragment-5th-7th-Century-AD-/131828190208?hash=item1eb1928c00:g:jSEAAOSwnDZT83cC

There are excellent print and online resources for the student or collector of ancient Coptic textiles.  The Coptic Tapestry Albums & The Archaeologist of Antinoe, Albert Gayet  by Nancy Arthur Hoskins, is a very accessible, lavishly color illustrated guide to the collection amassed by the controversial French psuedo-archaeologist Albert Gayet in the late 19th Century. It describes Coptic textile production techniques as well as offering insight into how collections of these objects were built in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Online, in addition to the Rietz Collection mentioned above, we recommend the Indiana University Museum’s small but excellent online collections – http://www.iub.edu/~iuam/online_modules/coptic/cophome.html.

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Many Antiquities Book Titles Added to Our Website

Regular customers of Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities know that in addition to antiquities, ancient artifacts and ancient coins, we also offer a wide range of books, catalogs and journals dealing with ancient art. We’ve just updated that section of our website with some excellent titles, some out of print and hard to find, dealing with such diverse topics as the artistic and architectural heritage of Constantinople / Istanbul, Parthian and Sassanian Mesopotamia and Iran, Cypriot antiquities, the Etruscans, Greek and Etruscan pottery, and much more. Most titles are in the $10 – $15 or less price range. Our Books section may be accessed here (opens in a new tab or window): http://clioancientart.com/framedandun-framedartbooksandpublications.aspx

Update on Repair and Conservation of Tutankamun’s Mask and Beard

This article in The Guardian provides an update (including a short video) on the joint German-Egyptian restoration and repair work on King Tut’s golden mask, following damage last year when the beard was accidentally knocked off and glued back on. Link opens in a new tab or window: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/21/fixing-tutankhamuns-beard-unfortunately-they-used-epoxy

Excellent New Video: Top 10 things you should know about Ancient Egyptian Art and Architecture

Here’s the URL to the video on YouTube, from Oxford University Press (opens in new tab or window) – https://youtu.be/JNqeOqVmyCc

NEWS ITEM: Egyptian Antiquities Ministry Destroys Archaeological Site

This is astonishing. Now the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry is in the business of destroying archaeological sites. Most likely this is a case of corruption, in which contractors pressured local authorities to direct the Ministry to destroy the site. Here is a link to the story (opens in a new window) – http://www.egyptindependent.com//news/hellenistic-era-ruins-demolished-alexandria

News Item: Egyptian Mummification Seems to Have Started 1,500 Years Earlier then Previously Thought

http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/08/2014/mummification-started-in-egypt-1500-years-earlier

Egyptian Statue Generates 16 Million Pounds to Benenfit Northampton Museum

Despite ridiculous interference from the Egyptian government and objections from a few purist fanatics, this statue, in the Museum’s collection for over a century, sold for 16 million Pounds to benefit Northampton Museum – http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-28257714

Egyptian antiquities

Antiquities in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: A Brief Review

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are among those North American art museums fortunate to display good quality collections of ancient Mediterranean and related antiquities. The Museums’ antiquities collection is housed in the Legion of Honor, with its spectacular views over the Golden Gate, the City of San Francisco itself, and across to Marin County. The collection consists of approximately 1,000 objects ranging in date from Bronze Age to Byzantine, represent nearly every type of material and cover a wide geographic reach from Egypt and the Near East to Western Europe.

For those living in the densely populated San Francisco Bay Area or Northern California generally, there are several options for viewing ancient art. The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose offers a vast, if rather poorly displayed collection of Egyptian antiquities. UC Berkeley’s Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology offers a modest but very high quality selection of Egyptian and Classical antiquities. And now the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento maintains a good quality collection of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and other Mediterranean antiquities, thanks in large part to donations and other efforts by the Chris Maupin Trust for Ancient Art. Still, on the whole, the Legions’ antiquities collections are the most balanced and largest on display in Northern California. Most of this collection was acquired in the early 20th Century, especially through the gifts of M. H. de Young, founder of the de Young Museum, and Alma de Bretville Spreckels, wife of sugar magnate Adolph Spreckels. She had lived in Paris just prior to the outbreak of the First World War and met many acclaimed artists, including Auguste Rodin (many of his works are in the Legion today). With her husband’s backing, Spreckels determined to create a new museum for San Francisco, modeled on the Palais de le Legion d’Honneur in Paris. In addition to her own gifts, the new Museum, opened in 1924, received art from the French government and the Queen of Romania and the Queen of Greece. Many smaller gifts have been made since then.

Despite offering a very good selection of ancient art, particularly Egyptian and Roman antiquities of all sorts and Greek ceramics, the relatively small portion of the collection on view at any time is today relegated to display cases along the walls of a broad corridor in the lower levels of the Legion; a corridor that also contains access to the Legion’s theater and restrooms, bookstore, porcelain and other collections. This arrangement denies the visitor the opportunity to view works from anything more than one direction. The rather extensive collection of Roman glass is also hindered by the fact that nearly all of it is highly iridescent. This may have been due to the collecting preferences of Alma Spreckels or the Queen of Greece, from whom she acquired most of the Museum’s Roman glass. In any case, this selection prevents the visitor from seeing Roman glass as it would have appeared in its original condition.

In its favor, the Museum does have a support group for the antiquities collection, the Ancient Arts Council. The group sponsors lectures by art historians, classicists and archaeologists on a regular basis, offers travel discounts and private tours of the collection, and more. Here is a link to the Council’s website: http://www.ancientartcouncil.org/membership

The following images, all taken by the author, offer some insight into the quality of the Legion’s collections. For many more antiquities images from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco online database go to: http://art.famsf.org/search?f[0]=field_art_image_available%3A1&f[1]=field_art_department%3A718

Egyptian antiquities

Egyptian shabtis of the New Kingdom and Late Dynastic Periods

Egyptian Antiquities

Mummy mask and pectoral from the Fayum. Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC

Egyptian antiquities

Section of mummy cartonnage, 21st Dynasty, 1069-845 BC

Egyptian antiquities

Winged scarab in polychrome faience. Late Dynastic Period.

Luristan antiquities

Cheek pieces in the form of winged sphinxes. Bronze. Luristan, western Iran, early 1st Millennium BC

Cypriot antiquities

Cypriot bi-chrome footed pottery goblet, 725-600 BC

Cypriot antiquities

Pair of Cypriot lustrous red pottery spindle bottles, 1400-1230 BC

Greek South Italian Antiquities

Greek South Italian (Apulian) black glazed guttus, 4th Century BC

Greek antiquities

Attic red figure lekythos (left) and alabastron (right), Athens, first half of the 5th Century BC

Hellenistic gold jewelry, Roman gold jewelry

A Greek Hellenistic gold and carnelian necklace (outer) and a Roman 3rd Century AD gold, sapphire and garnet necklace (inner)

Roman glass, ancient glass

Roman glass flasks, early 1st Century AD, the central flask marbled, the others highly iridescent.

Roman antiquities

Roman marble sarcophagus, Italy, 3rd Century AD

Byzantine mosaics, Byzantine antiquities

Early Byzantine mosaic panel featuring a peacock. Western Asia Minor, 5th or 6th Century AD

Udjat: The Eye of Horus

One of the most recognizable forms of ancient Egyptian art is the udjat (also spelled wedjat and utchat), an amulet representing the eye of the Sky God Horus. The udjat amulet is also one types of art or artifact from ancient Egypt that has survived in fairly large numbers, making it easily accessible on the legitimate antiquities market today.

The udjat seems to have made its appearance during the later part of the Old Kingdom, around 2,300 BC, and continued into the Roman period, disappearing around 200 AD due to changes in belief systems. It was made in every material imaginable, including gold, electrum, silver, semi-precious and other hard stones, wood, pottery, faience and glazed composition, these last two materials being the most common. Most surviving examples are small, simple monochrome or polychrome glazed composition but the range of decorative styles and techniques, as well as sizes, was tremendous. In this brief photo essay we will look at images of some well documented examples, from Clio Ancient Art and museum collections.

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The example shown above, sold by Clio Ancient Art in 2013 to a US collector and formerly in an old UK private collection, offers a clear picture of the elements of the udjat. Each element of this seemingly simple design  — the right side, the pupil, the eyebrow, the left side, the curved tail and the teardrop — is actually part of a complex Egyptian mythology, each represented by all or part of a hieroglyphic symbol. The term “udjat” can be translated as “whole one”, a reference to the primal conflict between the Sky God Horus and his evil rival Set, in which Horus lost his eye in battle. Thoth (depending on the version of the story over time, also Isis or Hathor) magically restored the eye, thus restoring order and “maat” — the fundamental force of order and good in the Egyptian world view. Because Horus’ right eye was said to represent the Sun and his left eye the Moon, the loss and restoration of his eye was equated with the darkening and lightening of the Moon during its phases. And because the eye’s restoration was so important in Egyptian mythology, with many variations over time and regionally, the udjat took on a powerful protective characteristic, making it an especially efficacious personal and funerary amulet. So, this simple design offers much muore than meets the eye!

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The example above is an openwork type of the Third Intermediate or Late Period, 1,069 – 332 BC, in glazed composition (self glazing material, similar to pure faience but with a more complex internal structure).

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Above is a rather large polychrome example in blue green and black faience, dating to the Late Period, 712-332 BC.

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Most specimens more closely resemble the small, simple example shown above in polychrome faience. All of these, including the openwork example, have been pierced lengthwise to allow for suspension on a string or as one element of many in a more complex piece of jewelery.

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This complex, superbly crafted example, now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, features added symbols, including a lion (the war goddess Sekhmet?), a rearing cobra (the “uraeus”, a symbol of kingship and divinity) and wings (perhaps the protective wings of Isis or Hathor). This object may be viewed on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website at: http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/561047?rpp=20&pg=1&ao=on&ft=udjat-eye+amulet&pos=1

ImageThis Late Dynastic example from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, utilizes simplified forward facing seated baboons as a decorative element in the eyebrow. Thoth, who restored the eye to Horus, was often depicted as a baboon in Egyptian art, including small amulets. This example may be viewed on the FAMSF website here: http://art.famsf.org/utchat-or-eye-horus-blue-1925178

Of course, we cannot overlook the fine example below of the Eye of Horus, featured on Mickey the Cat, who inhabits the Clio Ancient Art offices here in Wilmington, NC.

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Cleopatra’s Needle, New York

A series of short lectures on various aspects of the Egyptian obelisk in New York