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Fragment of a Hanging with Horse and Lion

Early Byzantine
6th century - 7th century
166.5 x 80 x 6.99 cm (65 9/16 x 31 1/2 x 2 3/4 in.)

Not on view


Additional Images
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Additional Image Detail, first register
Detail, first register
Additional Image Detail, roundel with a horse rider and a lion
Detail, roundel with a horse rider and a lion
Additional Image Detail, roundel with a horse rider and a panther
Detail, roundel with a horse rider and a panther
Additional Image Detail, second register
Detail, second register
Additional Image full view
full view

This compact composition consists of profile busts of animals combined into column capitals in a fashion known from ancient Persia. The animals alternate from register to register, between horses and lions. Superimposed on the capitals are birds flanking triangular baskets of fruit from which curling palmettes sprout, encircling spade-shaped leaves. A broad band on the right of the panel contains six roundels in a fragmentary condition. Horsemen in fitted, multi-colored tunics and trousers wield lances within pearled roundels. It is tempting to see the presence of lions and cheetahs outside the roundels as a reference to the hunt, but that would not explain why the cheetahs wear collars. This could be pure ornamentation, although it has been suggested that cheetahs may have been domesticated and used to assist in the hunt.

In style and iconography, the Horse and Lion Tapestry is related to a group of fourth- to fifth-century textiles, some also in wool, but others in silk, with Sassanian motives. Some members of the group were discovered in Antinoopolis (modern Sheikh 'Ibada in Egypt), a fact which has caused some debate as to whether these are Sassanian textiles that were exported to Egypt, or Egyptian textiles imitating Sassanian designs. The tri-lobed flowers in red, pink, and white between the horses’ heads have been shown to be a native Coptic motif, arguing for Egyptian manufacture. More recently, technical analysis of a related piece in Paris (Louvre E 29392) indicated the presence of Cashmere goat fiber, arguing for a Persian origin for that fragment.

- J. Hanson

F. Morris, "Catalogue of Textile Fabrics," (unpublished manuscript, 1940) vol. 1, 253.

E. Kitzinger, "The Horse and Lion Tapestry at Dumbarton Oaks: A Study in Coptic and Sassanian Textile Design," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 3 (1945): 1-72, fig. 1-123.

Handbook of the Collection (Washington, D.C., 1946), 129, no. 256.

2000 Years of Tapestry Weaving, exhibition catalogue, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, and The Baltimore Museum of Art, December 7, 1951-March 25, 1952, (Hartford, Conn., 1952), no. 41.

A. C. Weibel, Two Thousand Years of Textiles: the Figured Textiles of Europe and the Near East (New York, 1952), no. 34, fig. 34 (detail).

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 155, no. 303, pl. p. 161.

W. F. Volbach, Il tessuto nell'arte antica, Elite: Le arti e gli stili in ogni tempo e paese, 18 (Milano, 1966), no. 28.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 108-109, no. 366, pl. 366.

D. Thompson, "Catalogue of the Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection" (unpublished manuscript, Washington, D.C., 1976), vol. 2, 468-488, no. 54.

L. von Wilckens, Die textilen Künste von der Spätantike bis um 1500 (Munich, 1991), 31, fig. p. 33.

D. Benazeth and P. Dal Pra, "Renaissance d'une tapisserie antique," La Revue du Louvre et des musées de France 45.4 (1995): 29-40, esp. 33, 34, fig. 6 (color).

Abegg-Stiftung Riggisberg, K. Otavsky, S. Blair, and B. Bärfuss-Weber, Entlang der Seidenstrasse: Frühmittelalterliche Kunst Zwischen Persien und China in der Abegg-Stiftung, Riggisberger Berichte, 6 (Riggisberg, 1998), 154, pl. 86.

T. K. Thomas, “Coptic and Byzantine Textiles Found in Egypt: Corpora, Collections, and Scholarly Perspectives,” in Egypt in the Byzantine World, 300–700, ed. R. S. Bagnall (Cambridge, 2007), 148, fig. 7.8.

G. Bühl and E. Williams, “Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection: Past Studies and Future Directions,” in Textiles, Tools and Techniques of the 1st Millennium AD from Egypt and Neighbouring Countries: Proceedings of the 8th Conference of the Research Group “Textiles from the Nile Valley,” Antwerp, 4–6 October 2013, ed. A. De Moor, C. Fluck, and P. Linscheid (Tielt, 2015), 67, fig. 6.

G. Bühl, S. Krody, E. Dospěl Williams, Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt (Washington, DC, 2019), 106-7, no. 48.

Qantara Mediterranean Heritage, “Horse and Lion Tapestry,”

Exhibition History
Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum and The Baltimore Museum of Art, "2000 Years of Tapestry Weaving," December 7, 1951-March 25, 1952.

Washington, D.C., Dumbarton Oaks, "The Collector's Microbe: Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss and the Dumbarton Oaks Collections," Apr. 9 - Nov. 9, 2008.

Washington, DC, The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt, August 31, 2019—January 5, 2020.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Kalebdjian Frères, Antiquaires (dealers) Paris, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, August 1939.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks, 1939-1940.

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