Coptic Hanging with Birds

Hanging with Birds
5th - 6th century
Linen and wool
L. 72 cm; W 66 cm

Songbirds enclosed in a lozenge-shaped grid of floral buds and full blossoms decorate this curtain fragment. The blossoms and buds are naturalistically detailed in shades of pink-to-red madder-dyed wool with green and indigo accents. The wide-eyed birds sport delicate feet, beaks of madder, and bodies of indigo and green. Their rather oddly delineated tail feathers indicate the viewer's prespective of a bird in perfect profile. The overall repeated design of the tapestry insets of birds and flowers on this finely woven linen ground is a motif commonly found on curtains of this period and may have stemmed from the fashion for floret patterns found on floor mosaics.

Curtains and wall hangings were preserved in Coptic burials as wrappings and cushions of the dead. But in daily life they had lmany functions. They were used in openings between columns and doorways of both the interior and exterior of wealthy households and possibly to partition interior rooms. Their lightweight weave and scattered patterning provided concealment, yet allowed both light and air to permeate.

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