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Ancient Textiles

Through March 2018 in the Textile Gallery | Features late Roman and early Byzantine hangings and curtains alongside Andean looped and woven garments.

The textile rotation features late Roman and early Byzantine Hangings and curtains in tapestry weave used in private as well as religious spaces along side looped and woven garments from the Andes where elite individuals displayed their wealth and status by wearing clothing in dazzling colors and patterns.

Early Byzantine Curtains and Hangings

Wealthy owners of large villas who could afford mosaic pavements, such as the Hunting Scenes on the floor in this gallery, could also afford colorful, large-scale textile wall hangings and curtains. We know that such hangings were used in private, as well as in public and religious buildings.

Curtains hung between columns, partitioned rooms, and covered doorways for privacy and were used to control light and prevent drafts. These functions were often temporary and changed depending on the occasion and the season. Durability and portability were essential qualities of these textiles produced by early Byzantine weavers whose skills are recognized in finely rendered details and subtle use of colors.

Although most Byzantine textiles have been found in present-day Egypt, where the exceptionally dry climate is ideal for preserving them, the imagery and styles of these fabrics typify the common language of early Byzantine art and culture found all around the Mediterranean basin at that time.

Looped and Woven Garments from the Andes

Textiles, more than gold and precious stones, marked a person’s social status in the ancient Andes. Elite individuals displayed their wealth and privilege by wearing clothing in dazzling colors and striking patterns. Commoners dressed more simply, in garments that nonetheless reflected their gender, ethnicity, or occupation.

Elegant clothing assumed further significance in public ceremonies, rituals, and elite burials. Inka royals wore garments made of a high-quality cloth called qompi, woven exclusively by specialists and cloistered women. Leaders in the earlier Wari Empire wore fine hats and tapestry tunics decorated with stylized designs. Even earlier, in the Paracas culture, mourners buried their elite in garments and wrappings bearing spectacular embroideries.

Weavers created wearable textiles that were folded and stitched, but never cut. They used threads made of cotton or wool colored with animal or vegetable dyes. The crossing yarns of the cloth embodied the Andean ideal of balance achieved by interaction among complementary parts.