This decorative panel from a tunic was woven in around the year 500 AD, in Egypt when it was part of the flourishing Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. The panel is in the wondrous little show called “Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity” at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, a fairly recent addition to New York’s cultural and intellectual scene thanks to funding from Shelby White and her Leon Levy Foundation.
The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World’s spring exhibition, Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity, offers intimate glimpses into the lives of those who commissioned and used textiles and more sweeping views across Late Antique society (roughly third to seventh century AD). The exhibition brings together over fifty textiles of diverse materials, techniques, and motifs to explore how clothing and cloth furnishings expressed ideals of self, society, and culture. By their valuable materials and virtuoso execution, the textiles displayed their owners’ wealth and discernment. To modern viewers, the materials and techniques also attest to developments around the Mediterranean world and farther east along the routes of the silk trade. The Late Antique owners, in choosing from a vast repertory of motifs, represented (hopefully more than actually) the prosperity and well-being of their households. The owners represented themselves through the distinctively gendered imagery of manly and womanly virtues in mythological and Christian subjects so that in these textiles, we see distinctly personal manifestations of the religious transformation of the Roman Empire into a Christian Empire.
Further details of the exhibition, which unfortunately only runs until 22 May, can be found here.