Exhibition in Leiden, NL: Textiles from Egypt
REPORT by Monika Auch
From reopening – 30.08.2020

Textiles from Egypt - Exhibition at the Rijksmuseum can Oudheden, Leiden, NL

2000 threads - Series of five panels by Monika Auch, Photo: @ M_Auch_2020 and
Tabula with dancer, Linen and woll, 5th - 6th century AD, from Egypt,
© RMO, inv. F 1931/8.4

 

REPORT by ETN member MONIKA AUCH, artist, weaver and coach of QS2

The National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden hosts the exhibition ‘Textiles from Egypt’ with colorful, fragile textile artifacts, including exhibits on loan from international collections. The exhibition tells about the production, use, decoration, materials, techniques and meanings of Egyptian textiles. Showing about 100 rare, exquisite pieces it celebrates the skills and beauty of ancient craftsmanship with a focus on weaving.
On invitation by the National Museum of Antiquities the Dutch QS2 group of textile artists and their coach, Monika Auch made contemporary work, inspired after a visit to the storage of the museum.
The smart design of the presentation places the archeologic finds next to the big scale modern work. The exhibition will - hopefully - be open to the public from June until the end of August.

The Egyptian textiles in Leiden
‘The focus of the exhibition are textiles that were often garments, cherished as precious possessions. Some fabrics were used daily, but others were specially made for burial. The owners expressed part of their identity in their clothing. With these textiles, we literally get close to people from antiquity.
Due to the vulnerability of the material, textiles are rarely displayed. This exhibition  offers a special opportunity to admire the fabrics. The decorated textiles show motifs in which influences from different times and cultures come together. This also applies to the techniques used in the production process. Because textiles were relatively expensive, Egyptians attached great value to them. Wills show that precious fabrics were inherited. Decorated textiles allowed people to show their wealth, both during life and afterwards. Well-to-do people were often buried in several layers of textile, in a way related to mummification during the time of the pharaohs. The deceased wore different tunics, cloaks, hats, shawls, socks and sometimes even trousers. In addition, the body could be wrapped in large decorated pieces of fabric, such as tablecloths, wall hangings, or bedding. From the 4th century BC, various cultural and religious practices mixed with those of Egypt. Decorated Egyptian textiles contain elements from various cultures. Crosses from the Christian tradition were also depicted and biblical scenes were incorporated into the decoration. The story of Joseph, which takes place partly in Egypt, was popular. From the 5th century onwards, weavers decorated textiles with motifs that were originally Hellenistic, but which also allowed biblical interpretations. It is often impossible to tell whether we are dealing with heroes or saints. Faces and eyes were enlarged to cartoon like proportions.’ (source: RMO texts)

Contemporary work on Egyptian themes - the teaching proces
The spark between the QS2 group and the fragile, very appealing textiles was ignited during a visit to the museum’s storage. Personally selected pieces from the collection were the starting points of the creative proces, complimented by expert information from the conservators. In an intensive two-year working period we applied various methods and tools which resulted in highly personal interpretations. The focus was geared on a translation into modern works as opposed to an artful reproduction of historical objects. QS2 made a number of large scale work, using techniques like stitching, dyeing and foraying into non-textile techniques, as well. The works are placed in a striking dialogue with the display of the Egyptian textiles.

Tools and materiality in rituals
As coach to the group I was thrilled when QS2 invited me to join the show. As a weaver, ancient textiles had been a source of inspiration and study before. Serendipitously this coincided with ongoing research into historic weaving, i.e. the development of the standing loom, techniques and connotations of weaving through the ages. This line of enquiry started in the summer of 2019 as ‘Artist in residence’ at KH Messen in Norway. There I studied Viking weavings, especially the RYA technique, visited weaver Kirsti Skinveit and textile artist Kiki Yamamoto in Bergen, restored an old loom, used the authentic linnen warp, worked with dyes and wove several pieces on the old 4-shaft loom, inspired by the colors of Norway and the grand scenery.
Building on this, the Egyptian collection in Leiden sparked two specific ways of enquiry, i.e. about tools and materiality in rituals. 

Weaving stones
Weaving stones are the most humble weaving tools. If archeologists discover two rows of similarly shaped stones, then they know: This is the place where once a loom stood. Weaving stones served to keep an even tension on the warp in upright standing looms. Inspired by an elegantly shaped weaving stone and a partly decayed textile from the Leiden collection I wove a series of five wall panels developing modern fragmentation techniques. Each of the pieces is weighed down by either black clay or glass weaving stones. The clay stones are duplicates of the original weaving stones made by a ceramicist. The glass stones are sandblasted and prepared in cooperation with glass studio Van Tetterode in Amsterdam. The warps are mainly linnen. 2000 threads stretching over 2000 years, connecting an ancient tradition with contemporary work.

Cherish
The 3D woven sculpture ‘Cherish’ is inspired by the ritual wrapping of deceased humans and animals. The ancient ritual wrapping of the dead was the last loving touch, performed with dexterity and the knowledge of how to shape a container and apply a decorative surface pattern. A close study of mummies reveals a variety of beautiful patterns and skills. Additionally, from a weaver’s perspective there are similarities between the choreography of hand weaving and the ritual of wrapping, for example the process of making a warp and the back and forth movement of the shuttle. Extending this comparison between constructing a mummie and weaving towards the visual aspect it is easy to observe, that the outer layer of a mummie corresponds to weaving patterns, for example a twill. ‘Cherish’ consists of two layers, woven with paper threads, some of it Shifu, i.e. Japanese handmade paper. Paper is a material that is both ephemeral and very hard to work with, it makes the weaving process slow and contemplative.
‘Cherish’ was woven in January 2020, shortly before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now the touch of a fellow human as a last comfort has gained a new, sad connotation as a prohibited and even dangerous gesture. What will cherishing and nurturing without touching be?

More information on the work of Monika Auch: www.weeflab.com and https://www.qs2textielgroep.nl

More infomration in the National Museum of Antiquities: https://www.rmo.nl/en/

 

Orbiculus with image of an eagle
The eagle was associated with Zeus and the imperial power of Rome. Thos symbol was adopted by Christians as a sign of the evangelist John.
Linen and wool; 6th - 8th century AD; from Egypt
© RMO, inv. F 1949/3.10

Tabula with dancer
The central dancing figure holds a clapper or rattle in her raised left hand, and a shawl in her right. This motif is based on the Hellenistic meanads, nymphs who danced and made music as part of the coult of Dionyses.
Linen and wool; 5th - 6th century AD; from Egypt
© RMO, inv. F 1931/8.4

Textile with embroidered rosettes
The silk rosettes and decorative band on this tinic are not woven, but embroidered. Embroidery became increasingly popular from the Mamluk period (1261 - 1517)
Linen and silk; 10th - 13th century AD; from Egypt
© RMO, inv. F 1948/3.16

Headgear
In Egypt, small thin hats are usually found in combination with other heargear. The hats may have been worn underneath, and would not have been completely visible.
Linen; 4th - 9th century AD; from Egypt
© Amsterdam, Allard Pierson, University of Amsterdam, inv. 6090

Orbiculus decorated with the stroy of Joseph
On this ornament, the story of Joseph is told in nine scenes. On the left, you can see how he is thrown into the well and how a brother takes away his multicoloured cloak. On the right, Joseph is taken by the Ishmaelites on a camel to be sold to Pharaoh.
Linen; c. 650-99 AD; from Egypt
© The Phoebus Foundation, Antwerp, inv. 625

Tabula with horseman
The horsman on this tabula wears a cloak and has a stone in his hand to hurt with.
Linen and wool; 5th - 6th century AD; from Egypt
© Amsterdam, Alland Pierson, University of Amsterdam, inv. 16.373.B

Round cut fabric with cross
This coloursful piece is woven in the shape of a cross with a face in the middle. Amthough this symbol evokes Christian association, there are also examples where the cross is surrounded by Erotes.
Linen and wool; 5th - 7th century AD; from Egypt
© Amsterdam, Allard Pierson, University of Amsterdam, inv. 12881

Trousers
Wearing trousers became common in Egypt agter the Roman period. However, only a handful of trousers from the Late Antique periode (6th - 8th century AD) surrvive. These trousers are composed of pieces of various garments. They are calf length and the legs can be tied with strings. The belt loops show that the trousers were held up with a belt.
Linen; c. 570 - 665 AD; from Egypt
© The Phoebus Foundation, Antwerp, inv. 1733

Patchwork with saint (?)
This fabric consists of several pieces of tapestry fabric, which are sewn as a collage inti a linen base fabric. It depiects a man with a white beard and floral motifs in the background. The green band around his head resembles a Hellenistic halo.
Linen and wool; 4th - 5th century AD; from Egypt
© RMO, inv. F 1929/4.1

Orbiculus with a Nile scene
Tunics were often decorated with round ornaments, orbiculi, which were woven in pairs on the shoulders or at knee height. This one shows Nilus, god of the fertile Nile.
Linen and wool; 5th - 6th century AD; from Egypt
© RMO, inv. F 1973/9.11

2000 threads
Series of five panels, material: linnen, wool, black clay, porcelain and colored glass,
approx.170 x 65 x 5 cm, 2020
If archeologists discover two rows of similarly shaped stones, either natural rocks or made from clay with holes, they know: This is the place where once a loom stood. Weaving stones served to keep an even tension on the warp in upright standing looms. Inspired on a weaving stone and a fragmented textile I wove a series of 5 wall panels with weights. 2000 threads and an ancient tradition are the connection with Egyptian weavers.
Photo: @ M_Auch_2020

2000 threads
Series of five panels, material: linnen, wool, black clay, porcelain and colored glass,

approx.170 x 65 x 5 cm, 2020
If archeologists discover two rows of similarly shaped stones, either natural rocks or made from clay with holes, they know: This is the place where once a loom stood. Weaving stones served to keep an even tension on the warp in upright standing looms. Inspired on a weaving stone and a fragmented textile I wove a series of 5 wall panels with weights. 2000 threads and an ancient tradition are the connection with Egyptian weavers. 
Photo: @ M_Auch_2020

Cherish 
woven sculpture, 170 x 55 x 45 cm
material: paper, clay, glass, 2020
The ancient ritual wrapping of deceased humans and animals was the last loving touch. While weaving the container sculpture the similarities between the choreography of handweaving and the wrapping occurred to me, i.e. the precise process of warping and the circular movement of the shuttle. Extending this comparison to the visual aspect it is easy to observe, that the outer layer of a mummie corresponds to the weaving pattern of a twill.
Photo: @ M_Auch_2020

Exhibition poster
© RMO

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