THE COVER ISSUE 171 SPRING 2012
GREEKS AND AMAZONS Tapestry wall hanging, Egypt, 5th-6th century AD. Wool and linen, 1.11 x 1.26m (3'8" x 4'2"). A complete tapestry-woven hanging depicting three Amazons on horseback and three Greek warriors. The figures are framed by a pair of Corinthian columns. This mythological scene is often used in Graeco-Roman art and persisted into early Byzantine art. The figures are depicted in a bold and expressionistic way: they fill the whole scene and all face in the same direction. A tapestry fragment of a hunting scene, with similar figures, albeit rendered in a more ‘classical’ manner, is in the collection of The Textile Museum, Washington DC (see James Trilling, TheRomanHeritage: TextilesfromEgyptandtheEasternMediterranean300t0 600AD , Washington 1982, fig.21). The top and bottom borders have different patterns. There are remains of a warp fringe and the left side. The dark brown weft is very brittle and has been largely lost. These gaps were roughly repaired in antiquity with S2Z linen thread. Although the colours look unusual, common dyes such as madder were used. Katoen Natie Collection, Antwerp, KTN2095
Fragment of hanging with a hunting scene, Egypt, 6th century AD. Wool slit tapestry, 0.80 x 1.06m (311⁄2" x 413⁄4"). Acquired in 1946 from Paul Mellon, Paris. The Textile Museum, Washington DC, 71.90
IN MY INTRODUCTION TO ANTOINE DE MOOR’S article about the Katoen Natie Collection of ancient art, I say that it is a great pleasure and privilege to be able to visit and see new collections and presentations of textiles. In Antwerp, the owners, curators and designers/architects have, to my mind, achieved something that in its presentation merits the attention of many other museums. The collection is revealed with a controlled mixture of intimacy, clarity and drama that conveys absolute commitment to and enthusiasm for the vitality of the material. The requirement to have no natural light in the galleries in order to minimise its damaging effect has been turned into a virtue, as has the decision to not encumber the visitor with extensive labels and supplementary contextual information requiring lots of reading, leaving the public in charge of how much they want to find out by way of the available touch screens. I particularly liked the way that additional examples can be seen in drawers that light up when they are opened. With that added touch of technology it took me back to some of the old fashioned institutions where one could discover more material by pulling out drawers and sliding screens, always anticipating what you might see and learn next.
The sense of discovery also extended to the mainly Late Antique/‘Coptic’ textiles that I saw in Antwerp, awakening in me a new appreciation and interest in this type of material, which does not seem to be much shown in institutions that hold significant collections. A case in point is The Textile Museum in Washington DC, the strength of whose East Mediterranean archaeological material, largely unseen since 1982, I discovered in reference to the comparable tapestry fragment to our cover.
What is striking about the Huts, who own and direct the collecting at Katoen Natie, is their strong belief and vocal espousal of the power of culture in giving meaning to society and providing a historical context to a nation’s development.
Thus it is sad that a few miles away in the Netherlands we hear of a rather different political and governmental approach to the importance of culture, since several Dutch museums and cultural organisations are under threat of having government grants withdrawn in swingeing budgetary cuts. Most prominent is the threat of closure in 2013 of the Royal Tropical Institute and the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, announced in late 2011. The threatened withdrawal of the central grant has resulted in a consultation process between the Institute and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as other threatened associations in an attempt to find a less drastic course of action, but the idea that access to a world renowned centre of study and its unparalleled ethnographic and historical collections can be brought to an end is shocking. We wait in anticipation of better news and more enlightened policy making.
Of course the colonial past of European nations informs much of our collective cultural inheritance, but in a more immediate way it still produces a slow trickle of fine weavings onto the auction market. In the UK over the past few months, several unknown world class Turkmen weavings have emerged onto the market (see our comments in APG), and elsewhere in Europe (and the USA) there are still instances of high quality weavings coming up for sale which, through the wonders, or malign influence of the internet (depending on which side of the equation one is sitting), achieve unprecedentedly high prices. The latest exciting revelation is the newly discovered ‘Seljuk’ carpet corner fragment in Christie’s London carpet sale on 24th April 2112 (see News). This important new ‘addition’ to the known corpus of early Turkish carpets of the socalled ‘Konya/Beyshehir’ type, now mainly preserved in the TIEM in Istanbul, came to the present owner in 1974 via the Cairo art market and the Indoudjian family.
Ben Evans Editor
HALI ISSUE 171 7