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Excavations in the nineteenth century unearthed scores of the ornate dress textiles which wrapped the people of medieval Egypt in their graves. Ornament: Fragments of Byzantine Fashion brings together complete tunics, parts of garments and contemporary replicas of ancient dress to evoke the fashions of this now lost world. These textiles often preserved traces of their wearers in the forms of folds and stains, providing researchers with important information about the people buried in these garments. But alongside these bodily vestiges, the decoration of these textiles reveals much about the sophistication and aesthetics of the period in which they were crafted. Often cut into pieces by dealers at the time they were sold on the art market, these fragments survive in an incomplete state that has complicated our understanding of Byzantine dress practices.
The textiles on view in this exhibition represent a small part of the holdings in the Byzantine collection, which will feature in a free digital catalogue available on the Dumbarton Oaks website. With their spectacular range of colors, patterns, and ornamental motifs, the textiles display the remarkable skill of ancient craftsman and a compellingly modern aesthetic.
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