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Work Tunic of Pleated Linen

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Objects from everyday life

Tunic of Pleated Linen

© Musée du Louvre / G. Poncet

Egyptian Antiquities
Objects from everyday life

Author(s):
David Elisabeth

Textiles are extremely common in Egyptian tombs, even if intact garments are rare finds, and their subsequent conservation even more difficult. The kind of tunic we have here - close fitting and long-sleeved - has also been seen elsewhere. Yet it is uncommon in having conserved its original horizontal pleats, and also in the whole of its length having survived. It may have been worn before finally being rolled up and placed in a tomb of circa 2000 BC.

A Well-Designed Garment

The tunic consists of three pieces of linen sewn together. One piece goes around the body beneath the arms. It is tacked together along the left side with long, loose stitches. The shoulders and sleeves consist of two pieces forming a yoke attached to the upper edge of the "skirt," in such a way as to leave a V-neck at the front and back. Very narrow, this type of dress would have fitted close to the body, from wrist to ankle.
It is not known exactly how the pleating was obtained - whether by hand, or perhaps by using the puzzling ridged boards that may be seen in certain museums. In any case, the fabric would have been wet during the process. All the long-sleeved, "T-shaped" garments with horizontal pleats that are known today had been folded in four before the operation. At least fifteen of this type have been discovered in excavations since the late nineteenth century.

Ownership Unknown

Like all the others at Assiut, No. 13 was a collective tomb, and it housed four anonymous coffins. One of these contained a now skeletal mummy, packed around with rolled-up balls of fabric. Several of these turned out to be horizontally pleated tunics, only one of which could be saved. Weapons had been placed on the lid of the coffin, though this does not necessarily mean that the body was that of a man. The other long-sleeved "T-shaped" robes, according to excavators, came from women's tombs. Those that have been dated range from between the Fifth and the Eleventh Dynasties (between 2500 and 2000 BC).
Several examples of horizontally pleated robes have survived, but there exists only one pictorial representation of such a garment, and this would seem to be sleeveless. Egyptian costume, represented in countless contemporary images, presents Egyptologists with a knotty problem: why do tombs yield objects unlike those found in reliefs, paintings and statues?

Egypt: Linen and Civilization

Linen had a very important place in Egyptian civilization: much is known about weavers, and even launderers, and the prices they charged. Fabric was used for clothing, but also for barter, to pay wages and taxes, and in the production of mummies. It also ensured the comfort and prosperity of the deceased in the hereafter. From the Old Kingdom onward, lists of funerary offerings include different kinds of fabric, sometimes in great quantity. Tombs could contain rectangular pieces of cloth, loincloths, dresses, shawls and scarves in astonishing numbers. The tomb of Uah, a Middle Kingdom notable, was estimated to have held 845 square meters of fabric, 375 of which enshrouded the mummy itself.

Bibliography

Catalogue de l'exposition Un siècle de fouilles françaises, 1880-1980, RMN, Paris, 1981, p. 135.

G. ANDREU, M. H. RUTSCHOWSCAYA, C. ZIEGLER, L'Egypte au Louvre, Hachette, Paris, 1997, p. 84-85, notice 30.

Technical description

  • Tunic of Pleated Linen

    Middle Kingdom, 2033-1710 BC

    Assiut, cemetery, Tomb No. 13

    Mycenae or Rhodes (Greece)

  • Linen

    H. 1.21 m; W. 0.57 m

  • Gift of the Egyptian Government, as part of the policy for dividing archaeological finds, 1903

    E 12026

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Finery
    Room 9

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