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Textile Fragments with Nile River Scenes

These two tapestry pieces—the band with two vertical stripes (clavi) and the square panel (segmentum)—most likely come from the same cloth. They could have decorated a tunic, a shawl, or even a tablecloth. Many colorful figures along with a variety of ornaments fill the red ground of the fragments. Playful cupids cavort with fishes, ducks, and snakes, and ride in boats and on the backs of sea creatures (crocodiles or perhaps turtles). On each vertical band a figure brings home a deer, the bounty of a successful hunt. Prosperity is clearly the general theme. However, the dominance of water imagery—which includes fish, shells, water plants, and a wave-pattern border—makes particular sense in an Egyptian context. This textile celebrates the Nile River, which was understood as being the source of fertility and prosperity. The reclining river god himself appears in the upper corners of the top band of the clavi and also in the central medallion of the segmentum, where he holds a cornucopia (horn of plenty).

Coptic (Egypt)
Textile Fragments with Nile River Scenes
4th–6th century AD
Wool, linen, dye
Clavi: L. 18 1/8 in. (46.0 cm), W. (top band) 18 1/2 in. (47.0 cm)
Segmentum:L. 10 1/4 in. (26.0 cm), W. 8 11/16 in. (22.0 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, William Lowe Bryan Memorial, 60.92 A-B