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  • Object type

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  • Description

    Painted textile made of cotton. Plain weave with paired warps and verticle stripe in supplementary warp pattern in brown along each edge; fringe along the bottom edge. Painted designs in brown and blue depict geometric interlocking panels and a seated figure.

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • C14-C15
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 122 centimetres
    • Width: 135 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    British and Medieval Extracts Register (1757-1887), p.41: "Found in a cave, September 1842, with 27 other [sic] mummies".<b>McEwan 2009, p.23

    Textile with seated figure. Painted Cotton, Muisca, Columbia (Gachansipa), 14th-15th century AD </b>

    Striking painted textiles were once traded throught Muisca territory in the Andean cordilleras of central Colombia. Organic materials decompose rapidly in the humid conditions found there and this rare example may have been preserved as part of a suite of funerary objects interred in a dry cave or shaft and chamber tomb. It offers an unusually detailed glimpse of the structure and content of indigenous cosmology. The alternating panels of geometric patterns feature diagonal, interlaced strands that may be inspired by the kind of woven mat used for sitting on special occasions. Embedded within these are interlocking designs and spiral motifs that are matched on Muisca pottery and stone objects. The seated frontal figure adopts a "displayed" pose with outstrectched limbs and has a pronounced rayed halo-like design surrounding its head, perhaps indicating solar attributes. The orientation of the seated figure varies systematically across the textile. Extrapolating from this incomplete fragments, it would seem to have been repeated thirteen times in total.Vila Llonch 2013
    Few textiles have survived from ancient Colombia. This rare cloth has woven borders, with painted decorations in the centre. The design includes squatting figures, with bent legs and elbows resting on their knees. Their skull-like faces have hollowed cheeks and wide eyes, each surrounded by a large feathered headdress. The cloth was originally used for burial and the squatting pose of the figures may reflect the position of the body when it was wrapped. The spiral and interlocking patterns are typical of Muisca designs, and craftspeople used similar decoration on ceramic vessels and stone objects.


  • Bibliography

    • McEwan 2009 p. 23 bibliographic details
    • Vila Llonch 2013 p.99 bibliographic details
  • Exhibition history

    2013 Oct 17 - 2014 Mar 23. BM, ‘Beyond El Dorado: Power and Gold in Ancient Colombia’

  • Conservation

    See treatments 

    Treatment date

    18 June 2013

    Reason for treatment

    Temporary Exhibition

    Treatment proposal

    Prepare for display. Remove from previous partial textile support. Apply new full stitched support on neutral coloured fabric. Attach to Hexlite board for display and future storage. Exhibitions to supply board.


    The textile itself is in relatively good condition. The cotton fibres are soft and supple, however they are fairly easily broken. There are areas of damage; several larger splits (c10cm +) caused predominantly as the result of the breakage of the weft threads leaving loose warps, and some small holes. Clearly missing areas with cut and fraying raw edges. There is some staining. The painted areas are in good condition; the paint appears to have been applied as dye or liquid form, and has soaked into the outer layers of each fibre rather than lying as distinct paint layer on surface. There is evidence of some fading of colours. The textile is very flat and uncreased - it was probably flattened during previous conservation treatment, as the soiling makes it evident that it was once folded.

    Previously the textile had been stitch supported onto a dyed cotton lawn fabric. However this fabric was felt to be unsuitable for display, as it was pieced together and irregularly shaped. It was also felt that insufficient stitching had been carried out in order to support all weak areas adequately for near vertical display requested for this exhibition.

    Treatment details

    The old support lining was removed by carefully cutting and removing the conservation stitching threads from the reverse.

    Following examination and photographic recording of the reverse side, the textile was strengthened and prepared for display by stitching it onto a new cotton calico support fabric, which in turn was tensioned and stitched to a board (Hexlite fibreglass/aluminium board was used for its long term stability and weight).

    Medium weight cotton calico was chosen for the support fabric, being suitable in terms of strength, weight and weave texture. It was dyed a pale beige to complement the colours of the textile, using Ciba Geigy Solophenyl dyes.

    The Hexlite board was then prepared. The corner edges of the aluminium honeycomb structure were filled using Bonda filler, in order to strengthen them and minimise likelihood of denting the edges of the board. The raw fibreglass edges of the board were taped using archival gummed linen tape. The board was covered with soft padding layer of brushed cotton domette and then undyed unbleached cotton calico fabric, tensioned and held in place by combination of conservation grade adhesive (thermoplastic acrylic Vinamul 3252) and stitching.

    The support fabric was tensioned over the prepared Hexlite board prior to attaching the textile - this was so that the conservation stitching used later to attach the textile to the support fabric would not be placed under stress when the supported textile was attached to the board afterwards. This was of particular concern given the relatively large size of the textile and board. However, in order to keep the stitching holding the textile to the support fabric and the stitches holding the support fabric to the board separate, a layer of thick polyester film (100 micron Melinex) was used as a temporary barrier between the fabric covered board and the support fabric. The support fabric was tensioned and stitched (slip stitch) to the fabric covering of the Hexlite board on three sides only (the fourth side was tensioned but pinned only, so that the Melinex barrier layer could be removed).

    The textile was transferred onto the board and secured in place onto the support fabric by stitching, using 44denier silk filament thread (also custom dyed to match using Ciba Geigy Lanaset dyes) and fine 00 Kalt curved needle to stitch support lines of staggered running stitch, couch over damaged areas and secure all edges with combination of long and short/couched stitching.

    Once all the support stitching was completed, the Melinex separator layer was removed by sliding it out from beneath the support fabric. The support fabric was then stitched around the fourth edge of the board.

    Finally, to ensure the layers of fabric on the board would not sag on near vertical display, four vertical lines of running stitch were worked through both the textile, support fabric and the fabric covering on the board.

    About these records 

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


Cloth (with fringe) made of cotton.

Cloth (with fringe) made of cotton.

Image description



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Object reference number: ESA358

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