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Panel of tablet-woven silk

 

Width: 63.000 cm
Length: 306.000 cm

Collected by Sir Richard Rivington Holmes, Abyssinian Expedition

AOA 1868,10-1.22

    Panel of tablet-woven silk

    From Gondar, Ethiopia, late 18th century AD

    This cloth was designed as the central section of a triptych which would have screened the inner sanctum, maqdas, from the main body of an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian church.

    The practice of adorning the interiors of churches with silk hangings was widespread in the Byzantine empire - a tradition that survived longer in Ethiopia than it did in the rest of Christendom.

    This is the largest tablet-woven textile in the world. Tablet weaving is the process whereby the 'sheds' through which the weft passes are created not by heddles, but by perforated cards strung on the warp threads. This panel would have required over 300 tablets, through which each one of four warp threads would have passed.

    Though a profoundly Christian artefact, the panel was probably created by a guild of Muslim or Jewish (Falasha) weavers in the city of Gondar. It is woven entirely of imported Chinese silk, and the figures that appear on it are depicted in such detail that the soldiers can be seen to be carrying firearms of Indian manufacture. The event commemorated is probably the lying-in-state of King Bakaffa (reigned 1722-30). Bakaffa, Mentaub, his wife, and their young son Iyasu are all depicted wearing the plaited band of blue silk, matab, which was a symbol of their Christian faith.

    C. Spring and J. Hudson, Silk in Africa (London, The British Museum Press, 2002)

    C.J. Spring and J. Hudson, North African textiles (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

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