Texts and textiles

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This exhibition features rare ancient Greek papyri from Oxyrhynchus—a site in upper Egypt, and Coptic textiles that once belonged to elaborately adorned items of clothing worn in the time of Christian Egypt.

Art Exhibition previously on at Ian Potter Museum of Art in Melbourne precinct, Victoria, Australia.
From Saturday 17 October 2009 to Sunday 18 April 2010

Coptic Textile Fragment image

Published by Ian Potter Museum of Art on Friday 06 March 2009.
Contact the publisher.

Organic material and fabrics decompose easily so it is extremely rare for ancient textiles and papyrus to survive in the archaeological record. Fortunately, the hot and dry climate of Egypt has preserved many pieces of ancient papyrus and cloth.

For the past century, the area around Oxyrhynchus has yielded an enormous collection of papyrus texts dating from the time of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods of Egyptian history. Featured in the exhibition are papyrus fragments discovered at Oxyrhynchus from the first book of Thucydides; other texts include a declaration concerning the sale of a slave, and various private accounts, receipts and personal letters.

Illegal excavations have brought thousands of Coptic textiles onto the antiquities market. These textiles were probably made when the majority of people in Egypt subscribed to the Christian faith during the fourth to seventh centuries. This exhibition includes woollen tunics, or parts of garments such as tunic ornaments, panels, shawls and shrouds. Coptic textiles are notable for the richness of their decorative motifs: geometric patterns, human figures, birds, animals, fish, flora, mythological themes, Nilotic and marine scenes, episodes from the Old and New Testaments, and crosses.

The works featured in the exhibition offer a view into the lives of the owners and makers of these garments and texts through the fragile pages of papyrus and delicate woven textiles.