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Coptic Textiles

Roundel Illustrating Episodes from the Biblical Story of Joseph

Coptic (Byzantine Egypt), 7th century

Linen, wool; tapestry weave


Textiles like this one are thought to have been produced by Copts (Christian Egyptians) whose designs and motifs influenced the visual repertoire of the early Islamic period. This roundel utilizes explicitly Christian imagery—the life of Joseph, son of Jacob. The early life of Joseph appears to have been a popular source of imagery in Egypt, likely because the narrative largely takes place in that region. Roundels like this were often placed near the shoulders of a child’s garment, and the imagery here of Joseph’s childhood may have been considered as not only an appropriate choice for a child’s garment but also a protective one.

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Tunic with Dionysian Ornament
Coptic (Byzantine Egypt), probably 5th century
Undyed linen with tapestry woven wool decorations


A longer, wider version of the tunic was the ubiquitous garment of the Late Antique period. This tunic is one of four in the Museum's collection said to be from Akhmim, an ancient weaving center and apparently a center of both pagan and Christian thought and religion. The burgeoning ornament of this tunic expresses Dionysian themes, culminating with an image of the god himself on the shoulder squares.

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Panel with the Triumph of Dionysos

Coptic (Byzantine Egypt), 4th–6th century

Wool, linen; tapestry weave


Like most textiles from Egypt, this fourth-century panel may have been part of a ritual or festive garment. It was manufactured in the Early Byzantine period from undyed linen and purple wool in tapestry weave technique.
Dionysos, the center figure, rides a chariot drawn by two panthers. As the god of wine and intoxication, he holds in his raised right hand a characteristic bunch of grapes. Immediately adjacent to him caper two maenads (female followers). On his far right is a satyr and on the opposite side is an Indian captive in spotted pantaloon. This scene is meant to celebrate a stage in the god's legendary conquest of India, through which he achieves a triumph in this world and a place in heaven. This popular theme was with Egyptian ruler mythology from the time of Alexander the Great, who was also seen as a god. He conquered India in 325 B.C., a few years after founding the great Egyptian city of Alexandria.

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Fragment of Wall Hanging with confronted cocks and running dogs

Coptic (Byzantine Egypt), 4th–6th century

Wool and linen


This elaborately woven band was probably originally part of a large wall hanging for a domestic setting covering a door or decorating a wall. All the motifs related to the pleasures of the elite on their country estates. The large cocks confront each other across a large cluster of grapes with grape leaves by their feet. The detailed spurs on their claws suggest they were used for sport. Above their backs are hunting dogs.

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