North Africa; possibly Egypt
Dyed wool on undyed linen
4 5/8 x 5 in. (11.7 x 12.7 cm)
Purchase by the Department of Art History, 2019
Purchased by the Department of Art History from Tom Lyons on November 17, 2019.
This textile fragment is composed of dyed wool contrasted on undyed linen. The dyed wool serves as the "positive," or more pronounced design, and the undyed linen, the "negative," or background. Textile roundels, like this one, were most often used to adorn garments of clothing, such as a tunic. Wool and linen were considered standard materials for the period, and were accessible to the general public; more expensive textiles would have incorporated silk. This tells us that the roundel would have been worn by a respected member of society, but not necessarily one of great wealth or high status. The design does not contain words, but does depict images, and other decorative elements, including a hare enclosed within a vine-scroll pattern. These images were highly important as they were used to invoke prosperity for the wearer.
A tunic at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (no. 12.185.3) helps us better understand our roundel and its context. The Met tunic is attributed to Egypt, likely finding its origin very close to that of the roundel. Its medium is wool in a tapestry weave and adorned with textile medallions, which hold a strong resemblance to our fragment. The tunic also shows us the bigger picture of the ways in which the roundel would have been placed on a full garment, and how such applied elements were used to personalize garments and incorporate meaningful designs.
These worn artifacts may seem like one tiny insignificant part of history, but observing and reflecting on all the smaller details hidden behind the façade of a fragmented textile can reveal so much. Upon reading this entry, we are able to understand the what, who, when, and why behind this artifact and get a glance into the history of past societies and ultimately, the individuals within them.
Gudrun Bühl and Elizabeth Dospel Williams, eds., Catalogue of the Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection (Washington, DC, 2019). https://www.doaks.org/resources/textiles
Ivan Drpić, “The Enkolpion: Object, Agency, Self,” Gesta 57 (2018): 197–224.
Helen C. Evans and Brandie Ratliff, eds, Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th–9th Centuries (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012).
Anna Kartsonis, “Protection against All Evil: Function, Use and Operation of Byzantine Historiated Phylacteries,” Byzantinische Forschungen 20 (1994): 73-102.
Asen Kirin, ed. Sacred Art, Secular Context: Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC (Athens, GA: Georgia Museum of Art, 2005).
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.
Gary Vikan, “Art, Medicine, and Magic in Early Byzantium,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 38 (1984): 65–86.
Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, “Appealing to the Senses: Experiencing Adornment in the Early Medieval Eastern Mediterranean,” in Sensory Reflections: Traces of Experience in Medieval Artifacts, ed. Fiona Griffiths and Kathryn Starkey (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018), 77-96.
Freya Benson ('24) for ARHS 110 Introduction to Western Art (Spring 2021).