Thursday, 25 May 2006

A tapestry of Coptic history

Al Ahram Weekly by Jill Kamil

An attractive publication with a somewhat formidable title draws Jill Kamil 's attention to a worthy source on textiles, one of the finest of all Coptic arts.

The Coptic Tapestry Albums and the Archaeologist of Antino‘, Albert Gayet, is the lengthy title of a new book by Nancy Arthur Hoskins, who has researched Coptic collections in more than 50 museums around the world and who has produced a book that is a delight to handle and read. Here, at last, is a publication on Coptic textiles that is well-researched and illustrated with photographs in vibrant colour, along with detailed line drawings of weaving techniques and ancient weavers at the loom.

Thanks to Egypt's dry climate and sandy soil, textiles have survived in vast numbers and in an unrivalled state of preservation. Tens of thousands of coloured fragments found their way into the museums of the world, especially after 1889 when the French archaeologist Albert Gayet published a catalogue of Coptic art and, in the Bulaq Museum, staged the first exhibition of Coptic monuments.

"The first time I saw a Coptic tapestry portrait with its soul-searching gaze I was completely captivated," Hoskins writes in her introduction. "I felt I had connected -- through craft -- with someone from that far distant time and place. The dancers were enchanting, the angels ephemeral, the flowers ever festive, the weaving free-spirited."

Her enthusiasm subsequently inspired Hoskins, a former college weaving instructor who has published the results of her research in more than 50 professional journals, to examine Coptic collections in museums in the United States as well as the Coptic Museum in Cairo, which has the largest collection of Coptic textiles in the world. Thus began a research project that has led her to review museum collections in England, France, Portugal and Canada.

See the above page for more.

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