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The Microscopic World

Plant

Roundels Zoomify

Plant materials contribute significantly to the creation of clothing. The variety of textile materials that originate from plants is enormous, ranging from the beaten bark of fig trees and the combed fibres of cotton bolls, to the crisp, long stems of flax, nettles and hemp plants. Textile makers use everything from the grassy stems to the fluffy seedpods and fibrous trunks of plants.

About the Object

Object name: Roundels
Place made: Egypt
People: Copts
Date made: 600-799 AD
Dimensions: 10 x 10.5 cm
Materials & Techniques: Linen and wool, tapestry-woven
Credit line: Gift of Mrs. Herta Vodstrcil
ID: T88.0044ab

These tapestry-woven roundels were made as part of a tunic by Coptic weavers in Egypt during the Byzantine period, which marked a remarkable flowering of weaving creativity. The Copts created colourful wool tapestry insets into their plain-woven linen tunics, which depicted humans, animals and birds in mythical episodes.

Alternative Views

Oblique

Oblique

Back

Back

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Second Look

Macro

Macro

Macro

Macro

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Touchpoint View

Animation

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Audio Clip

Flax

Listen to TMC curator Patricia Bentley talk about flax.

Credit: Audio Produced by TMC

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Related Image

Flax

Flax

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Transcript

Flax plant cultivation has made important contributions to human culture since early times. All Linum usitatissimum plants offer the potential benefits of flax, but under long cultivation, humans developed varieties that accentuated particular attributes. One variety of flax plant has a higher production of seeds, supplying linseed oil and flaxseeds that are essential for cattle feed and human health food. Another plant is bred to grow tall thin stems for spinning into long linen thread. While Coptic weavers chose wool for their tapestry roundels because of its flexibility and ability to hold bright-coloured natural dyes, strong, lustrous linen was their preference for tunics.

Artifact Narrative

Mix of Styles in Byzantine Times

The majority of Coptic textiles in museums today were woven in the first millennium AD in Roman cities in Egypt. These textiles – mostly garments – depict a wide range of Graeco-Roman portraits and figures, Christian symbols and stories, as well as Arabic embroidery. In the first part of the millennium, the tapestry-woven parts of the objects featured mostly Hellenistic imagery, reminiscent of the decorations on Greek vases. Later, figurative portraits and illustrations of stories were common. Throughout the Coptic period of production, the borders on textiles were filled with either Greek-style curving and intertwining figures, or Arab-influenced geometric patterns.

Fragment

Fragment

Place made: Egypt
People: Copts
Date made: 500-699 AD
Dimensions: 56 x 37 cm
Materials & Techniques: Linen and wool, plain- and tapestry-woven
Credits: Gift of Mrs. Lloyd Solish
ID: T90.0236a

Image

Coptic Weaving

The favoured method of archaeological textile excavation in the 19th century was cutting out patterned insertions from larger textiles. Tens of thousands of these coloured fragments found their way into the museums of the world, especially after 1889 when the French archaeologist Albert Gayet began his excavations in Egypt. The burial grounds of such cities as Antinoe (ancient Crocodilopolis in Fayoum) yielded tens of thousands of fabric pieces, most of which date from the 4th century when mummification fell into disuse and the dead were buried in their clothing. Coptic weavers still produce tapestries and textiles today as a vital part of their culture.

Egypt

Coptic Weaving

Image title: Egypt

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Collection Connections

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Tapestry

Tapestry

ID*: T96.0194

Fragment

Fragment

ID*: T2006X0158

Curtain fragment

Curtain fragment

ID*: T88.0038