image preview

Creation Date

Late 5th–6th century






Dyed wool and undyed linen


6 13/16 x 5 3/8 in. (17.3 x 13.7 cm)

Credit Line

Bequest of David P. Harris ('46), 2020

Accession Number



Purchased by David P. Harris from Maria Teresa O'Leary (Nuevo Mundo) in Alexandria, Virginia on November 22, 1975.


Brad Hostetler, with Ani Parnagian, "From Private to Public: The Collection of David P. Harris," in Ethiopian Objects in the Blick-Harris Study Collection: Art, Context, and the Persistence of Form, eds. Brad Hostetler, and Lynn Jones, Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture 8, no. 1 (Spring 2022): 5–25.


This square textile fragment depicts a male rider in purple within an undyed circular medallion surrounded by a square border. The fragment has significant damage on the beige and black border, and few tears in the middle circular section. Parts of the now beige-colored linen are deteriorating and are almost completely detached. The preservation of this textile fragment suggests that it most likely originates from 5th-6th century Egypt. Egypt’s dry climate and its burial practices have best preserved textiles like this one.

The artist(s) made the rider larger than the horse possibly in the hope to bring the viewer’s eye to the man, and to depict the rider’s intellect over the beast (horse). It is hard to interpret what the rider represents but he may be a symbol of protection. The border surrounding the rider contains representations of the knot of Hercules, which symbolizes protection during battle. The corners also contain vine scrolls, which represent the prosperity of life.

The square shape of the textile with its multiple rectangular borders resembles other square-shaped designs sewn on Egyptian tunics. The Tunic with Dionysian Ornament at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (no. 26.9.8) features square-shaped designs at the bottom corners, similar to that in the textile fragment. These decorative squares also contain figures in the middle enclosed by ornamental borders. The tunic and the textile fragment are made from the same materials, further support that this fragment was most likely cut from a tunic.

Tunics with designs like the one found on this fragment were worn by everyone in the Byzantine period. Tunics were worn underneath mantles for warmth, yet the designs on the tunic squares peeked out from underneath the outer covering. Making tunics was a complicated process. People dyed the wool, spun the wool until it was thread, then used a loom and comb to create the textile. People used the designs on tunics to symbolize deeper meanings. This textile is especially interesting because it is a polysemic image, meaning it has many meanings depending on who the viewer is and when the viewer is looking at the textile. Many tunic squares and medallions during the Byzantine period depicted specific rulers or deities, giving these tunics clear meanings, but this fragment depicts a generic rider. The anonymity of the rider leaves the meaning of the tunic open to many interpretations.

Sources Consulted
Helen C. Evans and Brandie Ratliff, eds, Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th–9th Centuries (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012).

Eunice Dauterman Maguire, Henry Maguire, and Maggie J. Duncan-Flowers, Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House (Urbana: Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1989).

Henry Maguire, “Garments Pleasing to God: The Significance of Domestic Textile Designs in the Early Byzantine Period,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 44 (1990): 215-224.

Karen Sonik, “Pictorial Mythology and Narrative in the Ancient Near East,” in Critical Approaches to Ancient Near Eastern Art, eds. Brian A. Brown, and Marian H. Feldman (Boston: De Gruyter, 2013), 265–293.

Emily Fisher ('24) for ARHS 110 Introduction to Western Art (Spring 2021).

2020.401.pdf (518 kB)
Purchase Receipt and Supporting Documents

2020.401-sideB.JPG (5922 kB)
Reverse view

2020.401-scale.JPG (3261 kB)
Scale Comparison


Image Location