About This Artwork

Coptic
Egypt

Fragment (Hanging), 5th/6th century, Roman period (30 B.C.- 641 A.D.)

Linen and wool, plain weave with weft uncut pile and embroidered linen pile formed by variations of back and stem stitches
136.5 x 88.3 cm (53 3/4 x 34 3/4 in.)

Grace R. Smith Textile Endowment, 1982.1578

Among the earliest items in the Textiles collection is a portion of a hanging with warrior, made by Christian Egyptians, or Copts, in the fifth or sixth century. Flanked by columns and surmounted by an arch, the boldly outlined figure is striking in its frontality, solemn expression, and animated side glance; all these details relate the hanging to early Christian icons. The piece is also distinguished by its large size and brilliant color.

— Entry, Art Institute of Chicago Pocketguide, 2009, p. 60.


Because many textiles made by early Christian Egyptians, called Copts, were preserved in arid tombs, a substantial number of these fabrics have survived in remarkably good condition. This striking portion of a wall hanging depicts a warrior standing beneath a colonnaded, arched opening. With raised arms, which perhaps once held a weapon, he wears a traditional tunic with clavic bands (the narrow strips extending down from the shoulders, on the front and back, to the waist or hem). This woven piece is distinguished by its large size, imposing composition, and brilliant, unfaded shades of red, green, blue, brown, and yellow. The figure’s commanding frontality, solemn expression, and animated side glance, together with the composition’s bold lines and vivid colors, relate this fragment to the Copts’ hauntingly realistic portrait icons. Also suggestive of icons is the three-dimensional appearance of the warrior’s face and legs and the columns—an effect much easier to achieve in painting than in weaving. Woven of indigenous materials, this hanging is composed of linen warps and wool and linen wefts that create an uncut pile against a plain-weave foundation, a fabric surface less common in Coptic textiles than the tapestry weave.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2013, p. 332.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

The Art Institute of Chicago, Elizabeth F. Cheney and Agnes Allerton Textile Galleries, "Gift, Bequest and Purchase: A Selection of Textile Acquisitions from 1982–1987," March 18–August 14, 1989

The Art Institute of Chicago, Elizabeth F. Cheney and Agnes Allerton Textile Galleries, "European Textile Masterpieces from Coptic Times through the 19th Century," September 27, 1989–January 22, 1990

The Art Institute of Chicago, Elizabeth F. Cheney and Agnes Allerton Textile Galleries, "Textile Masterpieces from the Art Institute of Chicago's Collection,"
February 17–May 2, 1993

The Art Institute of Chicago, Ancient Art Gallery 153, April 7–July 13, 1994

The Art Institute of Chicago, Gallery 141, “Devotion and Splendor: Medieval Art at the Art Institute of Chicago,” September 20, 2004–January 4, 2005

Publication History

"The Art Institute of Chicago Annual Report 1982/83", fig. 23. p.18.

Christa C. Mayer Thurman. "Some Major Textile Acquisitions from Europe and Egypt." Museum Studies, Vol. II, No. I (Fall 1984). pp. 52-69.

Hali Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 2 (April/May/June 1985).

The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1993), p. 223 (Illus.).

Textiles in The Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1992), pp. 10-11 (Illus.), 143.




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