Eagle Tapestry Hanging Eagle
5th century
Wool and linen
L. (tail to top of crown) 69.0 cm;
W. (wing to wing) 40.0 cm
72.126.4

This red eagle with spread wings and head turned to look backward holds a bejeweled crown in his beak, framing his head like a nimbus. His collar is encrusted with gems.

The eagle belongs to a distinct fifth-century group, of large hangings or curtains. A hanging in Berlin preserves its flower-strewn background. Hangings were an important feature in the decor of the houses of the rich. Their subjects were often allegorical images intended to exalt the interior beauty of the home.

The eagle as a symbol holds an important place in various ancient cultures. The Roman legions marched under a standard bearing the image of the Imperial eagle. A sixth-century wall fresco at Bawit, Egypt, depicts an eagle with three wreaths above, each containing the letters alpha and omega, symbols of Christ. Elsewhere, the eagle in a hieratic pose appears on Sasanian Persian silks, and later, on Byzantine cloths.

The body of this madder-dyed tapestry-woven bird was once far more decorative. Traces remain of once-elegant striations on the eagle's neck, wings, and tail-feathers; the thighs were covered with flamelike feather markings; the eagle's eye once gazed out at the viewer with an ochre pupil.

Worn, fragile, and brittle, the eagle betrays its delicate state of preservation. The piece is reconstructed from many fragments. The plain-woven linen ground, though ancient, is not original to the piece. It has been cut to embrace the outline of the eagle, parts of which are glued in place. The "twig" in the eagle's beak is probably not original to this piece.

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