Carpets and Textiles
Panel With Birds, Human Faces, And Hares
Fatimid, 11th century CE
Materials and technique
Linen, dyed with indigo and embroidered with silk, and silk wrapped in gold thread
43 x 62 cm
This silk-embroidered textile fragment blurs the typical stylistic, chronological, and geographical boundaries in the study of Islamic art. The ground fabric, woven in an indigo-dyed linen, is embroidered in silk and gold thread (wrapped around a silk core) with decorative elements comprised of confronting pairs of birds flanking a human face, small running hares, and ornamental rosettes. The use of silk thread wrapped in gold recalls the luxurious nasij (an abbreviated form of the Arabic nasij al-dhahab al-harir, “cloth of gold and silk”), from the Arabic textiles woven in Iran and Central Asia before and during the mediaeval period, after the Mongol invasions. It is possible that the practice of weaving in silk and gold might be related to the cross-cultural exchanges resulting from trade (and sometimes war) between Egypt, the Near East, and Central Asia during this time. The appearance of animals on a mediaeval Egyptian textile is also not uncommon; confronting and addorsed animal pairs, in particular, have a rich history in the Ancient Near East. The inclusion of a human face without a body, however, is unusual. On a technical level, given the linen ground of the fabric and even its figural decoration, this skilfully woven panel relates to Fatimid and Coptic textiles produced in Egypt during the tenth and eleventh centuries.
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