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Work Jonah wall-hanging
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)
© Musée du Louvre/C. Larrieu
Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)
This tapestry, in linen and wool, features a highly complex chromatic composition. It is part of a series, many copies of which have been found in Middle Egypt. The Louvre version combines two allusions to the Resurrection of Christ (the Biblical story of Jonah, and a representation of a peacock holding a cross, or ankh, in its beak), with a lavishly-adorned complex cross, asserting the triumph of Christianity.
A workshop production?
This sizeable hanging is, in fact, only part of a larger ensemble. The panel features a design arranged in two registers, separated by a frieze of intertwined ropes. The design is worked in flat areas of bright, varied color, with little attempt at modeling. The unusual technique, rich, detailed imagery and skilfully-combined geometric and floral motifs make this an exceptional work, illustrating the importance of Christian themes in textiles of the period. The hanging was discovered in a tomb, but was probably first used to decorate a wealthy private house. The fragment is similar to other examples from a highly characteristic series of Middle Egyptian hangings, made in Antinoe or Akhmim, and may well be a product of the same workshop. The series dates from the fifth-eighth centuries AD.
Variations on the theme of the Resurrection
The Louvre hanging highlights the theme of the Resurrection.
The upper section - the best-preserved of the two registers visible here - is divided into three parts. In the center, a complex cross combining an ankh (the Pharaonic symbol of life) and a Greek cross, is amplified by its setting of of palm fronds and gemstones adorned with heavy garlands hung with beads. This design is set beneath an arcature consisting of two twisted columns with voluted capitals, each decorated with a stylized chi-rho (an early Christian monogram symbolizing the victory of the Christian faith).
To the left, a peacock holds another ankh, or symbol of life, in its beak. The peacock sheds its plumage each year before winter, and quickly became a symbol of eternal life for the early Christians. It is depicted here alongside a donkey, of which only the hind-quarters remain.
To the right is an episode from the life of the prophet Jonah: after fleeing the city of Nineveh aboard a ship, Jonah was thrown into the sea by the crew to appease the wrath of God. Jonah is shown at prayer, emerging from his three-day sojourn in the belly of a sea-monster. The scene is framed by the branches and fruit of a gourd, beneath which Jonah is said to have sheltered in the desert.
A triumphant celebration of the natural world
The upper part of the design features two allusions to the theme of the Resurrection of Christ. The animal and plant worlds triumph In the lower register, symbolized by lions defeating other wild beasts, and a diverse range of trees. The rich colors seen here testify to the sumptuous appearance of the work as a whole, now sadly lost. The lively composition of the lower section also contrasts with the relative serenity of the scenes above.
BibliographyEgypt, la trame de l'Histoire, Paris, 2002, p. 90 et fig. 2.
Third-fifth centuries AD
Wool on linen, bouclé (loop-stitched) technique
H. 1.19 m; W. 2.1 m
Lower ground floor
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