WASHINGTON (Aug. 31, 2019)—Interest in interior design existed long before HGTV’s “Property Brothers” hit television screens. Textiles have played an important role in defining spaces and social experiences for centuries. An exhibition opening today organized by two D.C. institutions—the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, and Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection—showcases fabrics that once adorned homes in medieval Egypt. “Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt” is on view at GW through Jan. 5, 2020.
The textiles in this exhibition, including wall hangings and curtains, reflect the interior decoration of Egyptian homes, palaces and places of worship, and explore the relationship between furnishing textiles and architectural spaces. They depict architectural structures like columns and archways, likely reflecting the contexts in which they were once installed, though none of the pieces were found in their original sites.
“Some of these textiles adorned villas and palaces of wealthy citizens. Others are humble, but offer a glimpse into ordinary lives,” senior curator Sumru Belger Krody said. “Like us, people surrounded themselves with material possessions, and textiles took center stage in creating environments that were physically comfortable, beautiful and filled with auspicious symbolism.”
In addition to spectacular wall hangings, the exhibition includes a large carpet fragment from the fourth or fifth century, a necklace with an Aphrodite Anadyomene pendant from the early seventh century and fifth century silver bowls depicting gods, goddesses and aristocratic pastimes such as hunting. “Woven Interiors” features artworks from The Textile Museum Collection and Dumbarton Oaks, together with loans from other major collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Cleveland Museum of Art; and Art Institute of Chicago.
“The collections of late antique and Byzantine textile at Dumbarton Oaks and at The Textile Museum count among the finest in the world,” assistant curator at Dumbarton Oaks Elizabeth Dospěl Williams said, “Woven Interiors offered our institutions a unique opportunity to combine forces in presenting our most precious and rarest masterpieces to a broad public.”
Support for this exhibition and its accompanying catalogue was provided by the Coby Foundation, Ltd., Elisabeth French, Norma and Ted Lonoff, the Makarian Foundation and Roger and Claire Pratt.
“Ornament: Fragments of Byzantine Fashion” is a companion exhibition on view at Dumbarton Oaks (https://www.doaks.org/) beginning Sept. 10. It will evoke the fashions of a now lost world by bringing together complete tunics, parts of garments and contemporary replicas of ancient dress. The textiles often preserved traces of their wearers in the forms of folds and stains, providing researchers with important information about the people buried in these garments.
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