• Ancient Egyptian Coptic Fragmented Textile with Standing Masked Figure, ca. 500-700 CE

Ancient Egyptian Coptic Fragmented Textile with Standing Masked Figure, ca. 500-700 CE

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Large multi-color woven textile fragment, ca. 500-700 CE, cut-out possibly from a tunic or curtain or hanging, depicting a standing male nude figure on a rich red background with blue and white stripes and remains of decorative border, shown wearing a two-faced mask, with a now missing right hand presumed held in an upraised position, with left hand present and held at an angle at his side. A fragmentary example with several losses. Mounted and framed under glass. Marylin Bender Altschul Collection, NYC. Framed to 14.5 x 22 inches (36.8 x 55.9 cm.).

Egypt was conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.E., then colonized and ruled by Greek pharaohs, the Ptolemies. After 30 B.C.E. Egypt was ruled from Rome, later from Byzantium, and briefly from Persia prior to the Islamic conquest of 641 C.E. Christianity became the dominant religion during the Coptic Period. A "Copt" in early usage identified an indigenous Egyptian, though in modern usage only a Christian Egyptian is a Copt. After 451 C.E. the Coptic Church separated from the Roman Catholic Church. Christian burial practices were adopted after the prohibition of mummification in the fourth century C.E., the deceased dressed in their garments, swaddled with other cloth, and buried in sandy, shallow graves; or, in some instances, in small brick-covered vaults. The dry desert clime preserved the textiles.

The Middle Coptic, High Coptic, or Early Byzantine (fifth to mid-seventh century C.E.) is categorized by the abstraction of naturalistic elements. Color areas, no longer blended, are separated by heavy outlines or juxtaposed. Faces and figures are distorted. Christian saints and symbols begin to replace the pagan iconography.