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TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Queens of the Nile

Prof. Olaf Kaper, guest curator the exhibition Queens of the Nile, and board member of the TRC.

Prof. Olaf Kaper, guest curator the exhibition Queens of the Nile, and board member of the TRC.

I enjoy exhibits where both the achievements and the foibles of people come through. And despite thousands of years, it is the ancient Egyptians’ humanity that comes across in the exhibition “Queens of the Nile” at the National Antiquities Museum (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) in Leiden (the Netherlands), running now until 17 April 2017. There are some 350 objects on display that chart the lives of Great Royal Wives, such as Ahmose Nefertari, Nefertiti, Hatshepsut and Nefertari.

A Pharaoh had many wives. This was a potential source of serious trouble, as the long papyrus scroll on display, detailing a harem conspiracy instigated by Tiye against Ramses III shows. But there was only one Great Royal Wife, who was likened in power to the goddesses Hathor and Sekmet (the latter has two stunning, lion-headed statues in the exhibit). Ahmose Nefertari, who controlled temple administration, was indeed worshipped as a goddess by the artisans who worked in the Valley of the Kings. There is a replica of the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti, who helped make a religious revolution in ancient Egypt. I personally enjoyed the granite statue of Hatshepsut. While she wears the kingly nemes-headdress, she also wears a woman’s dress. What she doesn’t wear is the usual false beard, which she used to indicate her status as a king.

And there is a reconstruction of the tomb, in the Valley of the Queens, of Queen Nefertari (not to be confused with the earlier Ahmose Nefertari). This tomb has beautiful wall paintings. In one of these, the Queen is shown bearing a tray with four forked symbols (hieroglyphs for ‘textiles’) in front of the god Ptah. Textiles played an important role in the rituals for resurrection, from actual mummy wrappings to symbolic offerings. The TRC made an exact replica of the linen garments Queen Nefertari would have worn in life (see more here). It is a display like this that makes these women come alive. These garments, and a small wooden statuette of a young girl, named Nefertemau, were the most poignant for me. Nefertemau died still a child. Her mother commissioned the statuette for her dead daughter in order to ‘make her name live.’

When you visit the exhibit, be sure to see the Museum’s new re-opened Egyptian wing. It does feel more spacious than before. The largest room contains statues. Every fold or plait in the image is clearly carved, from the stiff kilts of the men to the ankle-length dresses of the women. In the next room are some real treasures—a large display case with beautifully woven (and perhaps embroidered?) fragments of Coptic textiles. Go to the back of the display case and open the drawers. Inside are some exquisite fragments of approximately two dozen Coptic textiles. The colours (red, blue, orange and brown) still glow, and the designs of people, plants, and animals are lovely. The human figures include the chubby, slightly lop-sided figures that characterize Coptic art. I am guessing, based on Coptic textiles in the TRC collection, that these are wool on linen, from the 3rd to 6th centuries CE. I guess because, strangely, there was no information given at all about these exquisite pieces. A TRC colleague did write to the Museum about this and got a prompt reply that information texts were still being prepared and will be put up soon.

Shelley Anderson, Tuesday 13th December 2016

   

Feathers

“A World of Feathers” is the latest exhibition at the Ethnographic Museum (Museum Volkenkunde) in Leiden (the Netherlands, click here), which runs until 5 March 2017. It showcases an impressive collection, mostly of headwear, but also capes and haute couture gowns and scarves. One room is devoted to an amazing variety of birds whose feathers are used, from pheasants (think Queen Maxima’s stylish hats), eagles and owls (North American medicine men’s healing sticks and war leaders bonnets), to peacocks and the lowly chicken, whose dyed feathers trim an Aztec-inspired Mexican concheros dancer’s skirt.

The variety of feathers is enormous, as are the contexts the garments are used in. Whether it’s a chic Parisian wedding or a boy’s initiation rite in New Guinea, feathers are used to decorate and distinguish the human body, to show status and identity. As such, they can also be political: indigenous activists in the Amazon are now wearing traditional feathered headdresses to show pride in their roots—and to make a statement about protecting their land against deforestation. There is a short video with a Cherokee scholar, Dr. Adrienne Keene of Brown University (USA), who explains why many Native Americans are offended when non-Indians wear war bonnets at football games or in fashion shows.

The exhibition uses many excellent short videos to go deeper into the theme. My favorites included an interview with a Hawaiian woman who makes traditional leis (garlands) from thousands of small feathers. And an interview with an employee at Maison Lemariè, the only remaining plumassier in Paris. There, over 1000 ostrich feathers were being added, by hand, to a gown. It can take over 200 hours to steam (a process which adds sparkle) and apply feathers to a single dress. But it is the objects themselves which evoke interest. There is a seal skin and eider down cap from Greenland. A head dress made from plastic drinking straws, to replace a ritual feathered head dress that was destroyed, in Brazil. Also on display is a coil of up to 60000 red cardinal feathers, from the Solomon Islands. This is called tevau, and such coils were used as money up to the 1980s.

Last but definitely not least, there is a feathered cloak from the Chancay culture, excavated from a coastal grave in Peru, from circa 1100 to 1450. The feathers were collected from Amazonian birds, hundreds of miles and over the Andes mountains away. Fortunately anyone who wants to see this worthwhile exhibition doesn’t have to travel that far.

Shelley Anderson, 10 December 2016

   

Two days, and hundreds of veils

One of the participants of the Veils and Veiling workshop on 4-5 November, wrote to us with the following brief account:

Over a two-day span a small group came together at the TRC to listen and learn about veils with the TRC director, Dr. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood. The workshop in early November was called Veils and Veiling and the premise was to understand the notion of veiling from various perspectives. We looked at the history and variety of veils from northern Africa to Central Asia. We were able to touch and try-on all the versions of veils that covered the head and torso, specifically focusing on the face veil.

The participants in the group were diverse mix ranging from students to instructors from as far as Japan and the United States. Each member of the small group brought their own curiosity and insight on the subject, asking questions and sharing ideas in a very casual and organic manner. Over the course of the two days, as the Leiden rain drizzled outside, we were absorbed in the samples Dr. Vogelsang presented to us. The hours flew by as she told of the cultural significance and the context the garments were worn in. Her captivating stories of princesses and nomads whisked us through centuries and danced us across the globe. Over tea and coffee, we reflected on and discussed how our perceptions had changed since the start of the workshop. Being able to try on the countless garments and to ask questions about the construction and the function of the pieces were thoroughly beneficial. The Centre is an invaluable resource that must be venerated for the scale of its collections as well as the wealth of knowledge its director brings to the community. Truly, an enriching two days. Best, Hawa

Hawa Stwodah, USA, 14 November 2016

   

Online catalogue of the TRC collection

Detail of knitting sampler dated AD 1791. TRC 2016.2261

Detail of knitting sampler dated AD 1791. TRC 2016.2261

Work on the online catalogue of the TRC collection is getting well on the way. Perhaps you should have a look. Click here. For instance, one of the latest acquisitions to the collection is a knitting sampler that is dated AD 1791. The TRC recently obtained it together with a collection of embroideries from Hungary. This knitting sampler may be one of the oldest, and securely dated knitting samplers ever found in Europe. You can see the sampler in our online catalogue, click here.

 

 

 

   

Hungarian embroideries, a knitting sampler from AD 1791, and an embroidery chart of an Hungarian cushion cover

Hungarian cushion cover, TRC 2016.2246. Click on photograph for PDF-file.

Hungarian cushion cover, TRC 2016.2246. Click on photograph for PDF-file.

A few months ago the TRC announced that it had the chance to acquire a small collection of Hungarian textiles, mainly embroideries. Thanks to the help of various people the items arrived at the TRC last week and we have been busy photographing and cataloguing them (they are now all online in the TRC Collection, nos. TRC 2016.2237 to 2016.2261).

The textiles include a variety of different embroidery techniques and designs. Over the next few weeks we will be putting various charts online via the TRC Blog. In fact, the first of these Hungarian designs (TRC 2016.2246) is now available (click image) and consists of an eight-pointed star set within a diamond-shaped trellis work. It is worked on an even weave cotton material using a mid-blue stranded cotton thread. The design is worked in cross stitch. The pattern comes from a cushion cover that dates to the latter half of the twentieth century.

Knitting sampler dated AD 1791, TRC 2016.2261

Knitting sampler dated AD 1791, TRC 2016.2261

Among the Hungarian objects was something we had not expected. We knew the new acquisitions included a knitting sampler (TRC 2016.2261) and we had presumed it was early twentieth century in origin. On closer inspection, however, we found that there was a date, namely 1791, which would make it one of the earliest known dated knitting samplers from Europe. It takes the form of a narrow band sampler and is knitted using a linen thread. The top half of the sampler follows a classic needlework sampler format, namely it has various initials, a date, the alphabet, followed by 0-10 in numbers. The rest of the sampler is divided into two vertical rows with numerous lacy knitting patterns. We are now looking for someone who would be willing to translate these patterns into charts so that they can be published online for everyone to enjoy!

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 12 November 2016

   

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TRC in a nutshell

Hogewoerd 164, 2311 HW Leiden. Tel. +31 (0)71 5134144 / +31 (0)6 28830428   info@trc-leiden.nl

Opening times: Monday to Thursday: 10.00-16.00 hrs, other days by appointment.

Bank account number: NL39 INGB 0002 9823 59

Gallery exhibition, 3 April - 29 June: From Kaftan to Kippa

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Financial gifts

The TRC is dependent on project support and individual donations. All of our work is being carried out by volunteers. To support the TRC activities, we therefore welcome your financial assistance: donations can be transferred to bank account number NL39 INGB 000 298 2359, in the name of the Textile Research Centre, Leiden. Since the TRC is officially recognised as a non-profit making cultural institution (ANBI), donations are tax deductible for 125% for individuals, and 150% for commercial companies. For more information, click here
 
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