The Late Coptic (mid-seventh to twelfth century c.e.) category extends into the Islamic period in which geometric patterns and calligraphic motifs supersede figurative art.
Polychrome and monochrome palettes were used throughout all phases and some popular themes, especially dancing figures and interlace patterns persisted. While there was continuity throughout the Coptic period in the construction, composition, content, and palette of the tapestries there were profound changes in the iconography. The naturalistic style of rendering faces, figures, and narrative vignettes was altered by abstraction, and familiar Greco-Roman motifs and themes were imbued with Christian messages.
tion to Egypt. Nineteenth and early-twentieth-century excavations at Saqqara, Akhmim, Hawarah, Karanis, and other sites by Theodor Graf, Wladimir Bock, Gaston Maspero, Sir Flinders Petrie, and other Egyptologists contributed to the textile collections of European museums. However, the impact of Coptic textiles on the history of clothing, fashion, art, and archaeology can best be understood by examining the career of the charismatic, but controversial, French Egyptologist Albert Gayet (1856-1916). He collected tens of thousands of textiles between 1895 and 1910, primarily from Antinoe (ancient Antinoopolis), but also from Akhmim, Sheikh-Shata, Deir-el-Dyk, and Dronkah. Gayet believed he had discovered at Antinoe " . . . an efflorescent civilization to rival Pompeii."
Gayet became known as "The Archaeologist of Antinoe." Antinoe was founded in 130 c.e. by Emperor Hadrian. Drawings of Antinoe made during Napoleon's 1804 expedition to Egypt reveal the grandeur of this Greco-Roman city with its broad avenues, impressive triumphal arches, temples, theaters, and baths. The city was colonized by cultured, literate citizens of Greco-Egyptian ancestry who called themselves the New Hellenes. Antinoe slowly declined after the seventh-century
Islamic conquest of Egypt. Eventually, even the architectural remnants of the city disappeared. By the time of Gayet's excavations there was only a small mud-brick village called Sheik Abada at the site.
After each winter's expedition to Egypt, the fabrics and artifacts—even mummies—were brought back to Paris for exhibitions by Gayet. His displays in Paris featured tunics, mantles, shawls, head coverings, leggings, shoes, socks, cushion covers, curtains, wall hangings, strips of precious silk, coats of cashmere, mummy portraits on linen, and woolen tapestry fragments decorated with flora, fauna, figures, geometric motifs, and narrative vignettes in polychrome and monochrome palettes. He presented lectures with dancers dressed in faux Coptic garments. During the Paris Exposition Universelle de 1900, Gayet displayed textiles at the Palais du Costume in "sensational tableaux." The costume exhibit was for the "glorification of feminine fashion from the nineteenth century back through history to the Late Antique world." In 1901 Gayet became a celebrity for his discovery of the mummy of Thai's, a legendary fourth-century converted courtesan and popular heroine of Anatole France's 1890 novel and Jules Massenet's 1894 opera. Gayet estimated that he had uncovered forty thousand graves by 1902.
Eventually the Gayet acquisitions were doled out to the Musée du Louvre and other museums in France. Gayet collections are also in museums in Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland. Many Gayet textiles, sold to public and private collections, are now scattered around the world. Often early Islamic textiles are included in Coptic collections. No radical difference in the way cloth was made resulted from the political change, however, the iconography slowly segued toward the Islamic taste for non-representational art. Few of these early excavators preserved archaeological context or recorded sufficient documentation to accurately date the fabrics: clues in the cloth and design are all that remain.
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