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Textile with Antelope (?) in a Roundel

Early Byzantine or Persian ?
late 7th century - first half of 8th century
21.4 cm x 22.9 cm (8 7/16 in. x 9 in.)

Not on view


The husbandry of the species of moths that eat white mulberry leaves, whose cocoons provide the fibers used to spin silk, goes back to ancient times in China, but was only introduced to Byzantium in the sixth century. Sericulture and silk weaving were established first in Syria, Asia Minor, and Southern Italy, but from the seventh century, Constantinople was the center of production. This fragment is a twill weave, achieved by passing the wefts over and under an alternating number of warps, staggering the pattern from row to row. The technique creates a diagonal rib texture to the fabric.

The pattern, worked in tan fibers over a crimson ground, consists of roundels containing paired animals, goats, or more likely, antelopes flanking a tree. The narrow tree has a single vine-leaf finial and branches with leaves at the base. The scheme of confronted animals at the tree was an important motif throughout medieval Byzantine and Islamic decorative arts. This medallion may be of Syrian manufacture, but the sources for its iconography are too diverse to be certain. The animals' heads are reversed and they each hold a branch of the tree in their mouth. They both lift one foreleg to the tree, and suckle their young, who are positioned in the opposite direction underneath. The borders are comprised of connected heart-shaped blossoms with intricate tendrils.

An matching fragment in the Cleveland Museum of Art (47.192) was found sewn to a piece of linen identical to linen tunics from the same burial site. This suggests that these medallions may have been cut from larger fabrics for a second use as an ornament to a garment.

- J. Hanson

F. Morris, "Catalogue of Textile Fabrics" (unpublished manuscript, Washington, D.C., 1940), vol. 3, 33.

2000 Years of Silk Weaving, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Cleveland Museum of Art, January-February 1944, (New York, 1944), no. 14, pl. 4.

Handbook of the Collection (Washington, D.C., 1946), 120, no. 226.

D. G. Shepherd, "A Silk Fabric from Egypt," The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 34.8 (1947): 196-99.

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 156, no. 307.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 109, no. 370, pl. 370.

D. Thompson, Catalogue of the Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection (unpublished manuscript), (Washington, D.C., 1976), no. 168.

Exhibition History
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science, and Art, and Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, "Two Thousand Years of Silk Weaving," January to June 1944.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Dikran G. Kelekian (dealer), New York, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, December 1939.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., 1939-1940.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C., November, 1940.