Friday, September 29, 2023

Summer exhibition ‘Textiles from Egypt’ in Leiden

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For the first time in almost 25 years, the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden (the dutch National Museum of Antiquities) shows a beautiful selection of textiles from Egypt most of which are over 1,000 years old.

This summer, the colourful exhibition ‘Textiles from Egypt’ focuses on fanciful canvases, fragments of garments and interior textiles from the first millennium AD, in stories about fabrics, styles, weaving techniques, materials, motifs and symbolism. In the hot desert sand of Egypt, these textiles have been exceptionally well preserved for centuries. Nowadays, the material is very fragile and is therefore rarely exhibited.

Modern textile art by thirteen artists of textile group QS2, inspired by the museum’s collection, is displayed alongside the centuries-old fabrics. ‘Textiles from Egypt’ can only be visited for a few months due to the fragility of the antique fabrics, from 1 June until 27 September 2020. All visitors are required to book a start time via

Egyptian fabrics were cherished as precious possessions. They usually consist of a simple linen base with beautiful woven, embroidered or stitched details in coloured wool. Some fabrics were used daily, and other pieces were specially made for burials. Almost all fabrics in museum collections were excavated at the beginning of the last century and sold  via the art market. Coloured parts were particularly interesting for trade. They were therefore often cut out of the garments, after which the rest was thrown away.

The exhibition ‘Textiles from Egypt’ gives visitors a spectacular impression of the craftsmanship of ancient textile artists and of the wardrobe and personal taste of the Egyptians in Late Antiquity. It It highlights materials and techniques, and the economic role of textiles in Egyptian society.

On display is a wide selection of fabrics and ornaments with motifs from Greek mythology, ancient Egyptian culture, and Christian faith, sometimes in a wondrous mix. There is also an abundance of geometric and figurative images. Eye-catchers include an ornamental piece with scenes from the biblical story of Joseph from the collection The Phoebus Foundation in Antwerp. Several other objects are on loan from the Allard Pierson in Amsterdam, the Textile Research Centre in Leiden and the dutch National Museum of World Cultures, including masterpieces such as a complete embroidered tunic, a cap and a colourful sock. 

Modern textile art

At the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, textile group QS2 is exhibiting new work inspired by the museum’s collection as an integral part of the exhibition ‘Textiles from Egypt’. Visual artist Monika Auch coached QS2 in the developments of these contemporary interpretations of Egyptian textiles.

More summer exhibitions

In addition to ‘Textiles from Egypt’, the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden is staging the exhibition‘Romans along the Rhine’ for families and the come back of the successful exhibition ‘GLASS’, which was shown earlier in 2019 (both until 28 February 2021). Also on display is the (small) exhibition ‘Saqqara – Living in a City of the Dead’ about the museum’s archaeological excavation in Egypt (until 22 November 2020).

Main image: Orbiculus decorated with the story 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. 650-900 AD; from Egypt
© The Phoebus Foundation, Antwerp, inv. 625

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